Two Hypes, One Device?

Our job as an innovation lab is to be on the bleeding edge, where technology meets society. Many times, new technologies feel like hype, leaving us scratching our heads. “What’s that good for?” or “Who could possibly need that?” are often heard among the smiles and laughter. It’s true, we often don’t need new technologies for our current, everyday life. But that’s exactly the point, because new technologies that prove beneficial to humans change our everyday life that makes the new technology indispensable going forward!

Well, i.AM Innovation Lab just set up a device in our downtown Zürich office that bundles two hypes in one device. The first is “Internet of Things (IoT)” technology: the idea of millions of tiny devices and sensors that connect to the internet to enable capabilities or report data. The second is “blockchain” technology: the idea that a network can form consensus around the state of certain data. About now you’re probably rolling your eyes, thinking which VC firm dreamed up this scheme. We wanted to dig deeper on this, so we decided to try it our ourselves.

The device is a Helium Hotspot, about the size of a small book. These are actually nodes forming the Helium blockchain network. The set-up was very easy – plug it in, screw in the antenna and connect it to our own local wi-fi network with the help of an app. The device even gave itself a name, “Little Mint Alligator”. Now we waited for a few hours while Little Mint Alligator downloaded the entire Helium blockchain. Our hotspot didn’t even tell us it was finished when it got to work mining.

Mining on the Helium blockchain is different from other Proof of Work blockchains. Helium uses a consensus mechanism called Proof of Coverage. The hotspot can detect signals and receive data packets from over 10 Km using LoRaWAN, a low-power radio frequency. Nodes in close geographic proximity issue challenges to each other or witness challenges. Through challenges, witnessing and forwarding IoT data, nodes earn the native token, HNT. This is a crucial part for all public, open blockchains – people are incentivized to obtain a node, set it up and operate it because of this reward.

Now any IoT-enabled device in the Zürich area can transmit data to our node which will then forward on to a destination on the internet, like temperature sensor data or the location of my lost dog.

You can track Little Mint Alligator’s mining and data-forwarding progress here and enjoy this experiment by following along with us! Even better

See all 9,271 Helium Hotspots here: