May 20, 2015
Written by: Pete Rizzo
A project led by a pioneering developer of the Internet’s secure sockets layer (SSL) protocol was among the standouts at Blockchain University’s second demo day.
Held in Mountain View, California, on Monday, 18th May, the event featured presentations from roughly 10 projects created at the pre-accelerator during a six-week period beginning in April. Launched in December 2014, Blockchain University is aimed at promoting interest and innovation around blockchain technology and distributed ledgers.
Blockchain University’s second demo night successfully showcased how nuanced projects can now be quickly built on a broad range of blockchains and developed with the aid of APIs from bitcoin industry businesses.
Among the early speakers and sponsors perhaps none illustrated the recent increase in focus on blockchain technology better than BitPay developer Eric Martindale, whose company was among the first to bet big on the widespread use of the bitcoin blockchain as a facilitator of payments.
Martindale told the audience:
“One of the things that really struck me, is as I’ve grown, bitcoin is really the first app on the blockchain.”
BitPay senior software engineer Gregg Zigler and Monkey Inferno product manager Elyse Lefebvre went on to present Carrot, a project that enables a bitcoin wallet to accept an email address and replace it with a bitcoin address, all without needing any action from the user.
The project uses the bitcoin blockchain to move funds and the namecoin blockchain to guarantee that wallet names are unique.
“What we wanted was an open protocol that minimizes trust in third parties and maximizes the use of the familiar,” Zigler said.
Elsewhere, Collectible sought to use blockchains to both authenticate and create secondary markets for baseball trading cards, while Chainmail aimed to assist lawyers by making it easier to authenticate emails for later use in court cases.
While all these are examples of the types of projects created, none were among the most lauded by judges SKBI research fellow Tim Swanson and Coinalytics CEO Fabio Federici.
We review the top three projects as selected by event judges below:
The most polished project in the cohort, Revoke SSL succeeded by demonstrating its strong knowledge of a niche market (e-commerce checkout security) in need of a specific solution (the ability to signal quickly when HTTPS security has been compromised).
In particular, co-founder Matthew Schutte was able to illustrate how trust within this small but vital commerce system is in need of an overhaul.
For example, he explained how communications between browsers and websites can continue under the guise that a compromised certificate is valid, sometimes for weeks or months due to the difficulty of revoking certificates provided by third-party certificate authorities such as Trustwave and VeriSign.
The group also boasts unique experience tackling similar issues.
In addition to team members Jarod Holtz and Matthew Schutte, original SSL contributing developer Christopher Allen helped produce the product. Allen developed a reference implementation for SSL 3.0, the first successful version of the protocol and one on which newer updates have been based.
Though other presenters attacked small markets, Revoke SSL seemed the most serious about moving forward with the project following graduation, showcasing how it might evolve into a scalable and commercially viable business.
Potential clients contacted, they suggested, had expressed an interest in paying $150 for revocation services on a $500 certificates.
Squirrel aims to use blockchain technology and smart contracts to remove risk from global supply chains.
In a traditional supply chain, project leaders Jack Parkin and Sujata Meno argued, manufacturers take on unnecessary risk to ensure they are covered if vendors never fulfill orders. As a result, manufacturers struggle to gain the financing they need to produce new orders, thereby creating an expensive cycle of risk management.
To attack this issue, Squirrel developed a system by which parties could enter into a purchasing agreement at a lower risk level. Funds, the team proposed, could be sent to escrow accounts by both manufacturers and vendors. Squirrel, in turn, could act as a source of capital and security so that projects can be produced.
“A contractor is building a tree house and getting wood from a vendor, and they need $100 to get the wood, but only have $50. Squirrel can do a credit check and agree to match,” Parkin explained. “Money stays in escrow for everyone to see.”
From there, Squirrel uses the Thingchain blockchain developed by startup Skuchain as a means of tracking supply codes.
As the products are shipped, supply codes would be intermittently validated, with funds being released to parties when the initial supplies and finished goods pass through predetermined checkpoints.
“A small penetration of this market would be bringing quite a bit of returns,” Parkin concluded.
The issue of ownership and security was attacked again by the Blocknotary team, albeit in one of the more humorous presentations.
Created by Igor Barinov, David Bently, Roman Storm and Lilian Chan, Blocknotary allows those using cell phone cameras to attach a form of copyright to their creations. What separated the Blocknotary team, however, was how they had integrated this process in the traditional user experience.
Built as an iPhone app, Blocknotary allows users to access its service as they would email or Twitter when looking to share a photo. Alongside familiar options such as ‘Assign to Contact’, ‘Print’ and ‘Use as Wallpaper’ in an iPhone display, would be a Blocknotary button.
Someone taking a selfie, the team joked, would then put a description into a field, select ‘Submit’ and a copy of the photo would be made on the blockchain.
“[The user is] going to submit this to the blockchain and what will be in the OP_RETURN is the embedded date and time,” a presenter concluded.
Images via Pete Rizzo for CoinDesk