Our Blockchain Experience: Ethereum & IoT Summer Camp 2017

In the time when everyone and their dog explain what blockchain is and how it will save the world, some events stand out as they let people learn this great but clearly hyped technology by applying it to a sensible use case. Not yet another conference where you attend different talks and then guess whether they were at all beneficial to you, but a practice camp. Sounds attractive?

This year I had the joy of attending an event of this kind — Ethereum & IoT Summer Camp held in the last week of August in Frankfurt. Organized by Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, TU Munich and nexussquared, the event hosted a hackathon and a broad range of sessions by experts from big-name companies: Daimler, ConsenSys, IOTA, Commerzbank, Eciotify, etc. An attentive reader noticed that the camp title covers two technologies which make the camp “tasty”. Below I’ll briefly explain why.

Ethereum is a blockchain platform which not only executes and stores transactions as its predecessor Bitcoin blockchain, but also runs code (called smart contracts in Ethereum ecosystem), i.e. business logic of any imaginable use case which needs blockchain. Therefore, all the nodes in Ethereum network cumulatively act as a world-wide distributed computer. Ethereum is a first profound platform which made it possible to leverage blockchain for a general (not only financial) purpose. No surprise, this capability along with its various developer tools makes Ethereum a first candidate for diving in numerous webinars, conferences, and camps.

Only for the reason of describing the event itself, I intentionally omit explanation of WHY blockchain should ever be used in IoT. If in doubt, I recommend reading two comprehensive reports of IBM: Device democracy and Empowering the edge (both can be accessed here). Don’t be confused with IBM as an author, they were using Ethereum for their prototype back in 2015. Many thanks to Ralf who pointed these papers out to me when I joined grandcentrix!

Enough intro, let’s go back to the camp. Organizers claimed that each participant will be able to

connect Ethereum to real IoT products ...

and my team did it indeed! Here is my team by the way:

There were 4 topics in the hackathon: mobility, sensor data, energy, and supply chain. Every team was focusing on 1 track to implement a more specific use case.

My team was working in the energy track in a project called Energy Islands with a somehow radical idea behind, where households turn into self-sustainable units (islands) capable to supply themselves and operate independently from utilities. The description of our islands sounds quite familiar to energy experts who refer to them as “microgrids operating in an islanded mode”. You might have guessed where Islands in the project title comes from.

For the hackathon, we developed a small-scale prototype with 2 batteries as suppliers and 2 phones as consumers. We used an USB power monitor to send capacity data from the batteries to the Raspberry Pi which was running multiple Ethereum clients.

How blockchain fits in this case, you may ask? Ethereum blockchain with its capability to implement business logic via smart contracts provides a common platform where household devices can trade local energy. They are free to join to this electricity marketplace, put buy or sell orders, and eventually transfer energy after their orders are matched. This makes our islands cost-effective, eco-friendly and resilient (video).

We had five days to move from this vision to a functional prototype, and they passed super fast. From the very first day when we were just acquainting ourselves with the people and the rules of the game, brainstorming our ideas, and making decisions on whether to use a highly secure HiKey board or stay with familiar Raspberry Pi; to the final presentation event where all 14 teams presented results of their hard work. And somewhere in-between numerous talks on modern platforms and tools like BigchainDB, in-depth Ethereum, advances in IOTA; companies demonstrating their blockchain solutions (Daimler, Eciotify, Commerzbank, Energy Brainpool, and others).

In the last day of the camp I already started to miss the people and the atmosphere. It seemed to me that our Tatcraft venue was a cozy island just as an energy island from my team’s project. This unique island gives its inhabitants freedom to build whatever they want, provides continuous supply of fresh ideas, brings support from the people for whom blockchain is not just another marketing word.

One day I would like to return to our island in the Blockchain Ocean!