Category Archives: Technology

More on Blockchain for Supply Chains

I have written about the use of blockchain technology for provenance and supply chains. This is, indeed, a reasonable use case for blockchain technology, if not as compelling as some may think.

But in cryptoland, even the most reasonable ideas can inspire gob-smacking nonsense.

Case in point: Pindar Wong writes at Coindesk about “Blockchain’s Killer App? Making Trade Wars Obsolete” [1].  Huh, what?

This is the familiar supply chain use case.  But what does this have to do with trade wars?


Basically, I think there is a dramatic misunderstanding of what the term “Trade War” means. It means national policies that inhibit trade, especially in physical goods.  It has nothing at all to do with the technical operation of markets.

Wong wants “trade warriors” to use blockchain technology “to reduce trade friction and improve cross-border relations”.  But these frictions and relations are fundamentally political, not technical or economic.  And, tellingly, this article is in the context of strategists in Hong Kong exploring “how to fully digitize trade among the 65-plus countries involved in China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’.”  The B&RI is the very model of twenty first century trade war, not to mention neo-colonialism.  (I understand why HK is anxious to find a pivotal role in this initiative.)

Anyway, what is Wong actually talking about?  It’s pretty confusing.


One thing he is talking about is simplifying and automating supply chains. This is a familiar use case, though it is usually supposed to assure the provenance of goods. In this permutation, blockchains actually help trade wars, because smuggling is suppressed.

The ”trustless” blockchain requires some form of trust.  In this case, Wong describes model systems deployed in China.  Characterized as “open, bottom-up, opt-in”, they are actually Chinese government approved standards. Naturally the HK group propose extending these to the B&RI.  “Trust us, we’re from Hong Kong.”

Another innovation, indeed the biggest innovation he talks about is moving supply to demand, i.e., shipping raw materials and IP to the consumer, and manufacturing locally, on-demand.  A blockchain would be one way to keep track of the IP and return royalties and so on.  Basically, when I buy a Samsung mobile phone, it is fabricated in a local factory, and part of the sale gets credited back to Samsung via the blockchain.

This is a highly imaginative scenario, but there are a whole lot of questions. Why would an enterprise want to operate this way?  Why would a government let this be done this way?  I don’t really know.

Wong makes a good point that current WTO rules would have trouble dealing with this approach, at least initially.  But I don’t see any overwhelming difficulties.

More to the point, a blockchain is a pretty minor part of the overall picture. This entire scenario depends on some kind of international legal framework, which is the entire point of the WTO. The WTO of some successor will define the legal framework that the blockchain implements.


The whole idea of a trade war is that nation states have their own policies, which discriminate in favor of local interests. Nothing in Wong’s scenario changes this political picture. Replacing the WTO with an opaque Chinese hegemony such as the B&RI, is scarcely a realistic solution, blockchain or no blockchain.

Taking Wong’s overall point, it is interesting to think it is likely that using a blockchain does not make trade warriors “powerless”. In fact, to the degree that blockchains are transparent and trustworthy, they will make it far easier to implement discriminatory trade policies.  In short, nations will be able to use blockchain based provenance to implement “smart trade wars”.

Blockchains will actually empower a new breed of highly efficient trade warriors.

  1. Pindar Wong (2018) Blockchain’s Killer App? Making Trade Wars Obsolete. Coindesk, https://www.coindesk.com/blockchains-killer-app-making-trade-wars-obsolete/

 

Cryptocurrency Thursday

Interplanetary Copters!

The last decade has seen an incredible bloom in small autonomous and remote controlled helicopters, AKA drones. It isn’t far wrong to call them ubiquitous, and probably the characteristic technology of the 2010s. (Sorry Siri.)

It isn’t surprising, then that NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Admin.) has some ideas about what to do with robot helicopters.

This month it is confirmed that the next planned Mars rover will have a copter aboard [3].  (To date, this appears to be known as “The Mars Helicopter”, but surely it will need to be christened with some catchy moniker. “The Red Planet Baron”?  “The Martian Air Patrol”? “The Red Planet Express”?)

This won’t be a garden variety quad copter.  Mars in not Earth, and, in particular, Mars “air” is not Earth air. The atmosphere is thin, real thin, which means less lift.  On the other hand, gravity is less than on Earth. The design will feature larger rotors spinning much faster than Terra copters.

Operating on Mars will have to be autonomous, and the flying conditions could be really hairy. Martian air is not only thin, it is cold and dusty.  And the terrain is unknown.  The odds of operating without mishap are small. The first unexpected sand storm, and it may be curtains for the flyer.  Mean time to failure may be hours or less.

Limits of power and radios means that the first mission will be short range. Unfortunately, a 2 kilo UAV will probably only do visual inspections of the surface, albeit with an option for tight close ups.  Still it will extend the footprint of the rover by quite a bit, and potentially enable atmospheric sampling.


This isn’t the only extraterrestrial copter in the works.  If Mars has a cold, thin atmosphere, Saturn’s moon Titan may have methane lakes and weather, and possibly an ocean under the icy surface.   Titan also has a cold thick atmosphere, and really low gravity—favorable for helicopters!

Planning for a landing on this intriguing world is looking at a copter, called “Dragonfly” [1, 2]. The Dragonfly design is a bit larger, and is an octocopter. <<link>>  (It is noted that it should be able to continue to operate even if one or more rotors break.)  Dragonfly is also contemplated to have a nuclear power source—Titan is too far away for solar power to be a useful option.

Titan is a lot farther away than Mars, and communications will be difficult due to radiation and other interference.  The Dragonfly will have to be really, really autonomous.

Flying conditions on Titan are unknown, but theoretically could include clouds, rain, snow, storms, who knows.  The air is methane and hydrocarbons which could gum up the flyer. Honestly, mean time to failure could be zero—it may not be able to even take off.


Both these copters are significantly different from what you might buy at the hobby store or build in your local makerspace.  But prototypes can be flown on Earth, and the autonomous control algorithms are actually not that different from Earth bound UAVs. This is a good thing, because we have to program them here, before we actually send them off.

In fact, I think this is one of the advantages of small helicopters for this use. Flying is flying, once you adjust for pressure, density, etc. It’s probably not as tricky as driving on unknown terrain.  We should be able to design autonomous software that works OK on Mars and Titan.  (Says Bob, who doesn’t have to actually make it work.)


Finally, I’ll note that a mission to Titan should ideally include an autonomous submarine or better, a tunneling submarine, to explore the lakes and cracks. I’m sure this is under study, but I don’t know that it will be possible on the first landing.


  1. Evan Ackerman, How to Conquer Titan With a Nuclear Quad Octocopter, in IEEE Spectrum – Automation. 2017. https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/space-robots/how-to-conquer-titan-with-a-quad-octocopter
  2. Dragonfly. Dragonfly Titan Rotorcraft Lander. 2017, http://dragonfly.jhuapl.edu/.
  3. Karen Northon, Mars Helicopter to Fly on NASA’s Next Red Planet Rover Mission, in NASA News Releases. 2018. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/mars-helicopter-to-fly-on-nasa-s-next-red-planet-rover-mission

 

We must go to Titan! We must go to Europa!

Ice Worlds, Ho!

Robot Wednesday

Yet Another “Blockchain for Provenance” System

In the short decade since the Nakamoto paper [5] cryptocurrency enthusiasts have put forward a variety of use cases for blockchains and cryptocurrencies.  It is notable that most of the exciting use cases aren’t actually in the canonical paper itself, and most of them have yet to prove out in the real world. (And the most successful use cases are the ones not put forward as good examples–extortion, dark commerce, money laundering, etc.)

One of the perennial favorite use cases is Provenance:  tracing goods from source to consumer.  For companies, this is “logistics” or “supply chain”, for ordinary consumer this is about quality control.  This the same problem that scientists (and anyone) faces with data quality—where did this data come from, and what has been done to it?  In the latter form, this is called “provenance” and we were struggling with solutions a long time ago (before Nakamoto, Ante Bitcoin) [3].

This month yet another company touted this use case at the Ethereal Summit in NYC [1] .  The presentation by Viant traced a Tuna from Fiji all the way to the conference sushi plates.  Tagged with RFID, records of the sales and transportation of the fish are on the Ethereum blockchain, so everyone can check that the fish they are eating is “moral”. (How it can be “moral” to harvest increasingly rare wild animals and fly them half way around the world beats me.)

This is the yuppie version of Provenance (making sure that my luxury goods are authentic and “moral”), but the technology is the same as any supply chain.

Looking at Viant’s web site, they seem to have a reasonable grasp on the problem.  They have a logical model of provenance that includes “four pivotal aspects of an asset: Who, What, When, and Where”.  The model includes “Actors” and actions, and “Roles” that define permissions.  IMO, this is the right stuff (See [3]) .

They also have RFIDs to tag and geo track, and apps to implement operations (e.g., sales to distributors).  These are certainly the right technology, and they are lucky to have ubiquitous mobile devices and “the cloud” to implement these concepts we pioneered in the late twentieth [4].


So what does blockchain technology bring to the table?

First of all, it is used as a shared database, essentially a bulletin board.  The cryptocraphically signed and immutable records provide an unfudgeable trace of the object’s life.  And the blockchain is available to anyone, so ordinary consumers can get the authenticated traces of the object. (More likely, any third party can create apps that deliver the information to consumers – no normal person monkeys around with the blockchain itself.)

The second feature is the use of Ethereum “smart contracts” to process the transactions. This technology lets the company post standard scripts for, say, transfer of an asset. The script is available anywhere, and executes the same way for everyone.

These features are, of course, available from conventional databases and file systems as well.  But the Ethereum blockchain is available to everyone, and is maintained by the Ethereum network rather than dedicated servers.  This is the third advantage of the blockchain—deployment (no need for server farms), availability (no server access required) and maybe cost (TBD).

It is interesting to point out one feature of Nakamotoan blockchains that is not really used here:  trustlessness.  While the system boasts that it is decentralized and therefore “trustless”, this is misleading.

Provenance is literally all about trust. The point of tracing the object is to assure that it is what it is supposed to be, and that requires knowing who did what, etc.  Furthermore, it needs to establish a trusted trace, with each actor and action attested by a trusted source.

Using a blockchain, or, indeed, any digital system, is not sufficient to achieve this.  The company will tell you this.  The RFID can be removed or destroyed.  Actors can make mistakes or be suborned.  On the blockchain, false records look the same as correct records (and can never be removed).  Trust involve real world protocols, including authentication of identities.

In this area, the blockchain may actually be a liability. The “trustless” data cannot be trusted.  Part of what the company is doing with the “smart contracts” is overlaying a network of trusted records on the trustless blockchain.

There are other potential draw backs of using a blockchain in this use case.

Let’s talk about privacy.  Think about it. It’s not clear just how “moral” it is for anyone in the world to know where every bit of sushi came from and ended up.  Individual fishing captains don’t necessarily want any kid on the Internet snooping on their business, not to mention rival captains and possible criminal gangs.  And the caterer doesn’t necessarily want random people, competitors, or criminals tracking their business. And so on.

Second, there is no way to correct mistakes. Even if the software is always correct (which is unlikely), people make mistakes and are dishonest. If bad information gets onto the blockchain, it can’t be removed or corrected.

So, imagine that a bad actor somehow gets a bunch of bad fish entered as OK fish.  The blockchain shows that this is “moral tuna”, even though it isn’t.  Even if we find out about the fraud, the blockchain could still have the evil records forever.

One last point.  Viant is one of I don’t know how many companies trying to implement this kind of Provenance.  With all these variations out there, it will be extremely important to have interoperability standards, so you can combine tracking from a number of sources.  (See the W3C PROV working group.)

Using standards would seem to be both obvious and compatible with the philosophy of decentralization.  After all, if the only way to do tracking is to use Viant’s proprietary data model and software, then a key advantage of the decentralized blockchain is out the window.

Overall, Viant and others are doing the right thing.  It remains to be see whether using a blockchain will be a net win or not.  And all of them should implement the standards we started developing back at the turn of the century.


  1. Alyssa Hertig (2018) Moral Food: A Fish’s Trek From ‘Bait to Plate’ on the Ethereum Blockchain. Coindesk, https://www.coindesk.com/moral-food-a-fishs-trek-from-bait-to-plate-on-the-ethereum-blockchain/
  2. Robert E. McGrath, Semantic Infrastructure for a Ubiquitous Computing Environment, in Computer Science. 2005, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign: Urbana. http://hdl.handle.net/2142/11057
  3. Robert E. McGrath and Joe Futrelle, Reasoning about Provenance with OWL and SWRL, in AAAI 2008 Spring Symposium “AI Meets Business Rules and Process Management”. 2008: Palo Alto.
  4. Robert E. McGrath, Anand Ranganathan, Roy H. Campbell, and M. Dennis Mickunas. Incorporating “Semantic Discovery” into Ubiquitous Computing Environments. In Ubisys 2003, 2003.
  5. Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. 2009. http://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf

 

Cryptocurrency Thursday

Real Quantum Blockchain

More WTF-Science!

Nakamotoan blockchains have a certain mystical quality about them, but they are surely built on Von Neuman or at least Turing machines, no?  Plain old physics.  Time runs one-way. No spooky action at a distance.

At base, The general goal of Nakamoto is to create immutable data structures, permanent across time.  No action in the future can ever change the results of an action. Another way of saying that is that the data today is necessarily tied to the data at the original moment of creation.

This is, in a way, a form of time travel, isn’t it?  When I access the data, I want to access it at the exact moment of creation (or at least, the moment when it was “preserved” or “frozen” or whatever).

From this perspective, cryptographic schemes are mathematically simulating this time travel, by attempting to tunnel through the future in a sealed time corridor, i.e., the cryptographically signed data.  All the rigmarole of Nakamotoan signatures and “consensus” is a mathematical dance designed to make an (almost) unbreakable virtual link between the data and all future incarnations of it.

This dance is all necessary because we can’t have real time travel.

Or can we.


This month, researchers in New Zeeland report a conceptual design for a blockchain using quantum time-entanglement [2].

“Perhaps more shockingly, our encoding procedure can be interpreted as non-classically influencing the past; hence this decentralized quantum blockchain can be viewed as a quantum networked time machine.“ ([2], p. 1)

A time machine?!?   Now this is what we were thinking of when we were first imagining the blockchain!

The concept involves “entanglement in time between photons that do not simultaneously coexist”, which is even spookier action at a distance.

The details are beyond my puny understanding of quantum physics, but the paper describes a system that encodes data in a way that is not just difficult to tamper with, but impossible to tamper with.  Furthermore, it isn’t even possible to try to tamper with any blocks except the latest, because the photons no longer exist!

“in our quantum blockchain, we can interpret our encoding procedure as linking the current records in a block, not to a record of the past, but linking it to the actual record in the past, which does not exist anymore.”

Or, as they say, “…measuring the last photon affects the physical description of the first photon in the past, before it has even been measured. Thus, the “spooky action” is steering the system’s past” (quoting reference 22)

Assuming this concept is valid, it not only solves the challenge that QC poses for conventional blockchains, it is actually a direct implementation of the distributed “time machine” that classical blockchains only simulate.

Very cool.

And very, very spooky.


  1. Charles Q. Choi, Quantum Blockchains Could Act Like Time Machines, in IEEE Spectru – Tech Talk. 2018. https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/computing/networks/quantum-blockchains-could-act-like-time-machines
  2. Del Rajan and Matt Visser, Quantum Blockchain using entanglement in time. arxive arXiv:1804.05979, 2018. https://arxiv.org/abs/1804.05979

 

 

Cryptocurrency Thursday

Ethereum Contracts Are Buggy!

CryptoTulip of the Year for 2017, Ethereum is still thrashing around.  It seems like there is another great idea for totally remaking the system every week or so.  Indeed, sometimes there are so many ideas flying around it is hard to see how it can all stick together in a single system.

Nevertheless, confidence and enthusiasm remain high, even though they still haven’t figured out how to deal with last year’s big “oopsie” that left millions of dollars worth of Ethereum unreachable.

Personally, I don’t really think that a gang of unelected philosopher kings is really going to solve the problem.  (Plato advocated this back in the day, but it has never worked as advertised.  “Wise dictators” are usually just dictators.)


 

Meanwhile, out in the real world….

Several exchanges reportedly have “paused” Ethererum contracts in response to reports of bugs. In fact, they basically stopped support for the problematic ERC-20 protocol completely.

Wow!  Crypto exchanges acting almost like real, grown up businesses!  What a concept!

Of course, I have to wonder, “why now?”

The particular bugs in question are just the latest of a long line of such bugs. So why were they allowing ERC-20 in the first place?

All snarking aside, this development actually raises some very important points.

First of all, the bugs in question aren’t necessarily a flaw in the protocol, they are mainly just bad programs.  There will always be bad programs.  There is no such thing as a bug free programming language, and there can never be one.  If using Ethereum contracts depends on all contracts being correct, then it will never work, it can never work. Never.

Second, despite the decentralized protocol, and the fact that “no one” is in charge, in the real world the end-to-end system does have people in charge, and can respond to problems. In this case, the operators of the exchanges have intervened to protect their customers and their business.

Unfortunately for some users, the response is a draconian ban on the whole ERC-20 protocol. In this case, I don’t see much alternative.  It’s impossible to really tell if some ERC-20 contract is a problem or not.

Third, note that just because the blockchain is decentralized and immutable doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree on what to do with it.  The ERC-20 protocol and code is still there, indeed, it will be there until the heat death of the universe. But a lot of people can’t use it because their exchange does not honor the protocol.  Ironically, the “decentralization” that assures there is no one who can “censor” the blockchain, also assures that there is no one who can “censor the censors” of the blockchain.

This kind of behavior could be problematic in the long run. If part of the network accepts some contracts and not others, then how can anyone really use the system.  This is sort of a really soft ‘fork’ that effectively splits the network Even though there is a single technical system, it is used differently by different sub networks.

Ethereum is certainly pushing hard to repeat the CryptoTulip of the Year in 2018!


  1. Nikhilesh De (2018) Crypto Exchanges Pause Services Over Contract Bugs. Coindesk, https://www.coindesk.com/crypto-exchanges-pause-services-over-contract-bugs/
  2. Rachel Rose O’Leary (2018) Ethereum Infighting Spurs Blockchain Split Concerns. Coindesk, https://www.coindesk.com/even-ethereums-top-developers-think-blockchain-split-might-inevitable/
  3. Rachel Rose O’Leary (2018) Ethereum Is Throwing Out the Crypto Governance Playbook. Coindesk, https://www.coindesk.com/ethereum-throwing-crypto-governance-playbook/
  4. Rachel Rose O’Leary (2018) Ethereum’s Dialogue Divide Is Slowing Answers to Its Toughest Questions. Coindesk, https://www.coindesk.com/ethereums-dialogue-divide-slowing-answers-toughest-questions/

 

Cryptocurrency Thursday

Improved Low Light PV

Photovoltaic materials generally work best in strong light.  On a cloudy day, a PV panel may generate little or no usable power.  Balancing the variable and sporadic output of PV cells with continuous power consumption is one of the key challenges for solar energy.  This is why battery and other storage technology have seen intense research and development.

Another approach is to develop PV systems that work in lower light levels.  Creating high efficiency (i.e., relatively high output with relatively low light) is difficult, at least at reasonable cost.  Robert Service describes the operation of dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), which were invented almost 30 years ago. These are really cool, but have the interesting (and perverse) property that they are less efficient in brighter light than dim,  “essentially because the energy comes too fast for DSSCs to handle.” [2].

This spring, the same team reports a dramatic improvement on this technology [1]. The innovation is “a combination of dye and hole-conducting molecules that wrap themselves tightly around TiO2 particles” (from [2]), which eliminates much of the inefficiencies of the older version.

The new technique improves the performance in sunlight to about 13% power conversion efficiency (PCE) (which is OK but not outstanding), with 32% PCE in low light (which is close to theoretical maximum!).

Cool.

At this level of efficiency and cost, this material could be useful for continuous charging of small devices, including “sensors, appliances for the Internet of Things (IoT), smart windows, and eReaders” ([1], p. 2)

I have to say that the image of the dye and conductor “snuggling up tightly” is a great metaphor for elegant design.


  1. Yiming Cao, Yuhang Liu, Shaik Mohammed Zakeeruddin, Anders Hagfeldt, and Michael Grätzel, Direct Contact of Selective Charge Extraction Layers Enables High-Efficiency Molecular Photovoltaics. Joule, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2542435118301326
  2. Robert F. Service, Solar cells that work in low light could charge devices indoors, in Science – News. 2018. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/04/solar-cells-work-low-light-could-charge-devices-indoors

 

 

Ethereum in Space!

Cryptocurrencies have attracted far thinking people, including utopians ideas of “disrupting” money.

But the farthest thinking must involve getting off the planet or even out of the solar system altogether.

NASA is tasked with thinking about and developing concepts for space exploration, and they are certainly aware of the need for decentralized protocols.  NASA missions, by definition, go far beyond Earthbound infrastructure, not to mention beyond the possibility of direct human control.  (Even human spacefarers can only control things within a tiny sphere.)


Many research teams are investigating autonomous systems, which can operate without direct programming from Earth.  This year, Professor Jin Wei Kocsis  of the U. of Akron is looking at Ethereum “smart contracts” as a model for part of the system [2].

[T]his project intends to develop a resilient networking and computing paradigm (RNCP) that consists of two essential parts: (1) a secure and decentralized computing infrastructure and (2) a data-driven cognitive networking management architecture.

Ethereum is a decentralized more-or-less secure infrastructure, with both storage and computation.    Ethereum-style executable contracts are decentralized and Turing complete.  One could imagine Ethereum nodes on a constellation of loosely cooperating spacecraft, and one can imagine Ethereum contracts executing in such a network.

Cool.

As Samburaj Das remarks, “Details remain slim” [1].

But we can speculate.

<SET MODE = SPECULATE>

The overall goal is “autonomous” spacefaring, i.e., pushing as much sensing and decision-making to the spacecraft.

I hope to develop technology that can recognize environmental threats and avoid them, as well as complete a number of tasks automatically,”  Professor Jin Wei Kocsis quoted in [1]

Reading between the lines of the abstract, it seems likely that the system is expected to incorporate data from many sources, e.g., from planetside radar and swarms of spacecraft.  In such a scenario, the spacecraft needs to get data from many sources and automatically combine and filter it to keep a current assessment of hazards and possible responses.  It is also possible that the assessments (i.e., the computations) might be shared, so the whole system can learn and refine awareness of the whole area.

The scenario I describe is often solved using some form of shared memory, e.g., as a scratchpad or chalkboard shared among many nodes.  Clearly, a blockchain can function as such a shared memory, with the advantage of being completely distributed and robust regardless of nodes dropping out or communication problems.  Ethereum executable contracts offer the additional advantage of distributed computation, which can filter and analyze data on the blockchain.

This is surely the essence of how Ethereum will be used, presumably integrated as storage for their control algorithms.


There are other features of Ethereum that may or may not be important or even relevant for this project

It is possible that the cryptographic signatures may be useful as well.  Data on the blockchain is signed and can’t be fiddled with.  Cryptographic signatures mean enable the network to potentially detect and ignore intruders, errors, and false signals.

Speculating further, it is possible that the Nakamotoan distributed consensus mechanisms may be useful in the event that not all nodes are known or trusted.  The blockchain is a ledger designed to be trustworthy without relying on specific nodes to be correct or honest.  Out in space for years with no supervision, being able to trust the data even if you can’t trust the network nodes is probably valuable.

In summary, there is certainly a case for a distributed memory, and something like Ethereum is a useful testbed for these ideas.


On the other hand, I’m not sure if the currency aspects of Ethereum will be particularly useful, or if so, how.

I wonder if the incentives for miners make sense for this use case.  Would autonomous spacecraft want to operate as miners, or would they rely on other nodes (e.g., motherships and dirtside servers)?  It seems unlikely that the energy budget of a spacecraft can afford the costs of mining.

In the case of Ethereum, there is also the question of “gas” to run contracts.  This is extremely important for the correct operation of executable contracts (among other things, it assures that a contract will not run forever).  How are autonomous spacecraft going to be provisioned with Ether to buy gas?  Surely it isn’t reasonable to upload Ethereum coins from Earth.

Perhaps they going to buy and sell data or other services with their peers?  Maybe.  But this seems kind of out of scope, and potentially a huge resource hog for a very constrained system.  (It would be bad to be churning away doing some kind of micro transactions, and not have enough CPU time to actually do the navigation, no?)

(Combining these two possibilities:  maybe the spacecraft will charge for downloads.  “You want the data I collected?  That will be 100 ETH, please.”)


I imagine that these questions are some of the things the research will investigate.

Let me be clear. I know that Ethereum is just a testbed, not proposed to actually use on a mission.

It isn’t likely (or even possible) for Ethereum to be used in real spacecraft.

But Ethereum can help identify the features for a distributed storage and computation system that could be used.


I’ll add that distributed algorithms and storage are scarcely new to NASA.  NASA has been exploring these architectures for a long, long time [4,5].  Nevertheless, it is very interesting to see how these contemporary systems might be applied to specific missions.


  1. Samburaj Das, NASA Researches Ethereum Blockchain Tech for Deep Space Exploration, in Ethereum News. 2018. https://www.ccn.com/nasa-researches-ethereum-blockchain-tech-for-deep-space-exploration/
  2. Loura Hall, RNCP: A Resilient Networking and Computing Paradigm for NASA Space Exploration, in NASA -Early Career Faculty Awards. 2017. https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/strg/ecf17/RNCP
  3. Alex Knisely, Researcher and NASA work to help spacecraft avoid floating debris, in University of Akron – News. 2018. https://www.uakron.edu/engineering/ECE/news-detail.dot?newsId=c9a2717e-4327-4dcb-9040-87e788d068c4&pageTitle=Recent%20Headlines&crumbTitle=Researcher%20and%20NASA%20work%20to%20help%20spacecraft%20avoid%20floating%20debris
  4. J. Russell Carpenter, Decentralized control of satellite formations. International Journal of Robust and Nonlinear Control, 12:141-161, 2002. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/2c1a/d1206eb750399bc3728ee644ae8146f13fa5.pdf
  5. Wei Ren and A Randal Beard, eds. Distributed Consensus in Multi-vehicle Cooperative Control: Theory and Applications. Springer Publishing Company, Incorporated: London, 2010.

 

Space Saturday