Blockchain tech was built for Bitcoin, but its future is much broader and more interesting than that origin might suggest. It’s already being used in some very creative ways, and as the years go by, it’s sure to find numerous more innovative uses.
As far as public awareness goes, blockchain has yet to escape the shadow of Bitcoin. While it’s understandable that there’s such a connection (the former having been developed specifically for the latter, let’s not forget), more people should know that blockchain technology isn’t solely a tool for Bitcoin, or even for the cryptocurrency world. It has many more possible uses that will continue to emerge regardless of Bitcoin’s fortunes.
Over the coming years, we’re likely to see a huge range of systems, methods and businesses adapting blockchain tech for different purposes and in different ways — but we don’t actually need to look ahead to see the innovation it can bring, because it’s been happening for a while.
In this piece, we’re going to look at 5 innovative uses of blockchain technology that are currently being worked towards (and have in many cases already been implemented). Let’s get started.
Scalable Cloud Processing
One of the ongoing issues with the proof-of-work model used by Bitcoin to verify transactions is the amount of power needed to do the processing. Indeed, the electricity drain is colossal, almost as much as that of an entire country, and it’s going to continue getting more severe. And while there are various possible solutions (including doing away with the proof-of-work model entirely and finding a suitable replacement), there’s at least one that doesn’t involve getting rid of that processing, but rather repurposing it.
To that end, the Golem network was developed. Not using any central processing, it relies entirely on blockchain mining, taking its assigned tasks and breaking them down into proof-of-work calculations to be carried out across the globe. Think of it as somewhat akin to crowdsourcing or P2P file sharing, or — even more closely — the [email protected] project. Organizations that need huge amounts of data processing can simply rent the Golem network and scale to whatever level required.
If all the Bitcoin mining activity could be levied in this way for practical applications, it would cease to be “wasted” power and become perfectly justified. It’s a natural case of killing two birds with one stone. In addition, since blockchain tech is ideally suited for sensitive data and anything that requires security and anonymity, it’s a natural fit for storing the data once processing has been completed.
Physical Exchange Security
The remarkable convenience of today’s interconnected world comes with strings attached, because supply chains now are longer and more complex than ever before. Due to convoluted processes, unclear responsibilities and myriad charge-avoidance schemes, some products will circumnavigate the globe several times before reaching their destinations. And while the inefficiency of international trade might also be something blockchain could eventually help with somehow, we’re looking at another issue here: exchange security.
The more expensive the item being transported, the more vital it is that every step of the chain be accounted for in order to confirm legitimacy and ensure that no other parties are able to tamper with anything. And that may sound dramatic, but keep in mind that we’re not just talking about laptops shipped from overseas here — we’re also talking about contracts, organs, priceless artifacts, and anything else that needs to be shipped with top-class security.
To assist with this type of security, companies such as Chronicled are working on systems for fully tracking shipping journeys with a suitable level of reliability and sophistication.
The idea is to make as many of the items involved IoT-functional, then use security measures including biometrics and smart chips to confirm that everything goes as expected. If everything is configured correctly, there will be no point during the shipping process at which someone without the requisite access is able to interfere — and when the item reaches its destination, the recipient will be able to confirm that it’s genuine by reading its tag, then review the entire journey at their leisure. If anything went wrong, they’ll be able to discover the exact circumstances.
For something to be innovative, it doesn’t need to be particularly creative — just novel. And though the entire point of cryptocurrency (in principle, at least) is to allow for trading without a need to rely on a centralized organization for oversight, that hasn’t really been the hallmark of what might be called the Bitcoin era.
Instead, Bitcoin has functioned somewhat as a general symbol, but mostly as a plaything (and goldmine) for speculative investors. Though it’s inarguable that Bitcoin’s immense rise in value broadened public awareness of the cryptocurrency world, it also led many people to view it simply as another asset.
Sites like OpenBazaar, however, are working to turn that original cryptocurrency dream into a practical reality.
Through an unrestricted online marketplace, you can sell products without needing to pay any fees or go through any conventional banking systems (though there remain issues with the viability of B2C Bitcoin transactions). While you’re going to need to start from scratch in the current iteration given the freshness of the platform (Shopify natively supports Bitcoin if you’re interested in websites for sale), OpenBazaar has a well-crafted builder, so it might be worth a try if you’re looking to try online retail with a forward-thinking twist.
While Bitcoin has some aforementioned energy-drain issues, blockchain has green uses that don’t involve how much power it uses along the way — and one of them is as the communal backbone of an energy-distribution program encouraging people to use solar panels.
The problem with solar power is that it’s inconsistent and often just as expensive as other forms of power once you take into account the costs of panel production and installation. Because of this — and the aesthetic consequences of covering a roof in solar panels — most people are unwilling to seriously consider relying on solar energy to any meaningful extent.
Companies such as Solar Bankers, though, are seeking to make solar energy more competitive and affordable, and blockchain tech is an essential part of their work.
By supplying smart meters that connect solar panels to power grids via blockchain networks, they allow people and communities to sell and buy power in accordance with their moment-to-moment needs, and incentivize the use of the meters further through the provision of their custom in-system cryptocurrencies (adding extra value).
Making Renting and Buying Easier
The rise of Airbnb has fundamentally changed how people approach travel accommodation, taking an industry that was dominated by hotel companies and giving it a much-needed boost of flexibility. Today, anyone with a room to spare can quickly and easily rent it out at short notice — but though the arrangements can be handled online, there are still practical elements to be dealt with in person.
Companies such as Slock.it are looking to change this using blockchain-secured smart locks and control systems. They envision a world in which everything from property to utilities can be bought, rented or sold in an instant, all without needing central organization.
The Slock.it system is straightforward. When you want to rent a free room, for instance, you find the place and pay the fee using cryptocurrency over the Ethereum network. As soon as the transaction goes through, you gain control over the room’s systems, being able to lock or unlock it at will through your smartphone.
And because of the blockchain model, any business or any person can take advantage of this kind of system without needing to pledge allegiance to any middle-management. It’s a glimpse into what’s surely an inevitable future.
Patrick Foster posts actionable tips and industry recaps for Ecommerce Tips, a leading blog in the world of online retail. Stop by regularly for the latest updates, and follow along on Twitter @myecommercetips.