Blockchain is going mainstream: supermajor BP, conglomerate Samsung and shipping giant Maersk are just some of the blue chips either trialling new blockchain technologies or exploring the decentralised, electronic ledger system.
Market interest meanwhile in a Shell and Statoil-backed project, which seeks to modernise physical energy post-trade processes using blockchain, is “overwhelming” according to oil trader Gunvor’s COO Eren Zekioglu this week.
Blockchain is one of the few emerging technologies to genuinely deserve the clichéd label “disruptive” – a term widely abused in the tech world. Yet issues around its ability to scale and its electricity consumption remain significant
PoW, PoS, PoC!
The “Proof-of-Work” (PoW) approach to reaching consensus on a block, for example, leads nodes to consume vast amounts of computing power; miners who amass large quantities of computing power are able to dominate the block-creation process.
The commonly pursued alternative, “Proof-of-Stake” (PoS), is more energy-efficient. However, PoS may not be as decentralised as some claim, as those who own a large proportion of tokens can exercise significant control over the block-creation process.
It is no surprise that startups around the world are working overtime to tackle these challenges. Some are developing and experimenting with novel consensus mechanisms and new blockchain technologies. Others are piggybacking on or tweaking existing protocols – warts and all – to disrupt well-established business models.
Only time will tell which of these ends up succeeding.
Meanwhile, here’s our Top 10 to watch, in alphabetical order.
New Kids on the Block(chain)
Team size: 20
Founder: Saswata Basu
San Francisco-based 0Chain has developed its n-dimensional, deterministic, Byzantine DPOS blockchain technology to offer high security enterprise-grade cloud storage for distributed applications (dApps). It looks to stand out from other distributed cloud storage platforms by using a self-forking protocol which makes it possible to create a chain for a specific app or vertical, such as IoT or AI and tune consensus parameters according to application. There is no fee to use the platform, the dApps only need to hold tokens based on users’ computational and storage needs, like a deposit. 0Chain raised $39 million within weeks through private sale of tokens at the start of the year.
- Click here for 0Chain’s whitepaper.
Team size: 43
Partner: Kyle Jianqiang Lu
Beijing-based Achain uses a Resulted Delegated Proof of Stake (RDPoS) consensus mechanism. It also uses forking in a bid to meet multiple business demands, naming insurance, personal credit, and more. The protocol aims to enable developers of all levels to issue tokens and create smart contracts, by supporting multiple programming languages, from Lua, C++ to Java. Co-founder Kyle Lu says: “Decentralized apps usually start from issuing a token or building a smart contract on a public blockchain. Successful apps eventually leave the platform and build their own customized blockchain. That’s where we come in. At Achain, we provide services that allow developers to fork a customized chain for their specific needs, besides helping them issue tokens and smart contracts.”Achain already supports nine Dapps, including blockchain-based virtual game CryptoDogs and SelfSell, “an exchange platform listing talents as assets to help individuals raise funds by issuing their own tokens”.
- Click here for Achain’s whitepaper.
Team size: 47
Founder: Alex Bessonov
BitClave raised $25.5 million within 32 seconds through a token sale in late November. A blockchain-underpinned search engine currently based on Ethereum technology, its aim is to allow users to be compensated for their data directly from the retailers they are searching for – with customer profiles, search preferences and interests collected in an anonymized activity blockchain ledger accessible with user permission – ultimately making third party advertising unnecessary. This way, as Bessonov puts it in the company’s white paper: “Customer profiles can be elevated from shadowy privacy-invasive metadata, owned by third parties, to search metadata owned by customers and selectively revealed only when relevant to the search.” The startup hopes to challenge colossal middlemen Google and Facebook in the digital advertising world. The two were estimated last year to attract a staggering 84 percent of all global spending –excluding China.
Team size: Unknown
Burst is not new, but it is unique – and evolving. It’s the only blockchain based on a “Proof-of-Capacity” (PoC) consensus algorithm. Instead of needing ever-more expensive, power-hungry processors and graphic cards, it uses inexpensive, low-power hard drives. Miners fill their hard drives with plot files that contain all the computations to forge blocks. (In their existing form, these plot files are otherwise unusable data.) The Burst community is looking at enabling PoC mining with real data, i.e. movies, audio, Wikipedia archive files, OpenStreetMap GIS data and more, to take “a custodian role in globally distributed redundant storage for the safe preservation of all information acquired by our civilization and of permanent interest”.
Team size: 45
CEO: Brendan Blumer
EOS.IO software uses what it claims to be the only known decentralised consensus algorithm proven capable of meeting the performance requirements of applications on the blockchain, Delegated Proof of Stake (DPOS). Under this algorithm, those who hold tokens on a blockchain adopting the EOS.IO software may select block producers through a continuous approval voting system. Anyone may choose to participate in block production and will be given an opportunity to produce blocks, provided they can persuade token holders to vote for them. Block.one, the developer behind EOS.IO, has created a $200 million venture fund, EOS Global, to make “strategic investments in Asia-focused projects utilizing EOSI.O”. It has not been more specific about its targets. Mike Novogratz’s Galaxy Digital meanwhile has launched a $350 million B1-partnered VC fund for EOS dApps, with B1 also announcing a $1bn VC fund of its own for EOS dApps. Multiple chains are on track to be launched by the community.
- Click here for EOS.IO’s whitepaper.
CEO: Phil O’Regan
Team size: 12
London-based essenceProtocol has developed a blockchain platform focused on storing media content in a distributed manner. Founded by a musician Phil O’Regan out of frustration with the way artists are compensated, the startup will build an organic protocol to reward creators for the impact of their content on the network. In other words, artists can truly own their content and receive compensation based on the number of times that their content is reproduced by users. The technology intends to disintermediate centralised platforms – such as Apple Music, Google Play – in a $500 billion digital content industry by ensuring profits are distributed directly to content creators. The final product will be a completely decentralised platform managed by the community with censorship and validation controlled by trusted users on the platform. Essence say: “essenceProtocol is currently focusing on launching on Ethereum, building on EOS but eventually essenceProtocol’s long term vision is to be blockchain agnostic.” The start-up is currently being bootstrapped by its founder and currently working towards its ICO.
- Whitepaper currently being written
Company: Hashgraph (Swirlds)
Founder: Leemon Baird
Team size: 31
Hedera Hashgraph is not strictly a blockchain protocol: it relies on the use of a distributed ledger, but ledger entries are not structured into a series of interlinking blocks. Invented by Leemon Baird, the co-founder and CTO of Swirlds, it provides an in-built consensus mechanism that combines a virtual voting algorithm with a gossip protocol. Its founders see three sets of services as the platform evolves: cryptocurrency as a service for support, micro-storage in the form of a distributed file service that apps can use, and support for smart contracts. The speeds it has demonstrated have been impressive. (Recent performance testing for various combinations of numbers of nodes and their distribution around the world used Amazon AWS m4.4xlarge instances, and measured throughput up to almost 500,000 transactions per second). It is being funded by a range of VC partners and has partnered up with VMS Software, Intiva Health and a number of others who will use its technology. With the recent launch of Hedera Hashgraph, the public implementation of the Hashgraph protocol, Swirlds is seeking to forge new partnerships with leading businesses across various industries and locations.
Company: RChain Cooperative
Team size/membership: 39
Founder: Greg Meredith
RChain was the culmination of a number of innovations by founder Gregory Meredith. The core of RChain is based on mobile process calculi. The RChain architecture was documented in July of 2016. The RChain Cooperative (which has nine directors) is using “correct-by-construction” software development to produce what they hope to be a concurrent, compositional, and massively scalable blockchain. (The ambition: “content delivery at the speed of Facebook; transactions at the speed of Visa”). The Rchain decentralised applications platform is powered by the Rho Virtual Machine. Each instance of RhoVM executes an independent set of smart contracts on an independent blockchain and networks only when necessary. This means that RChain is partitioned (sharded) by default, resulting in a network of coordinated and parallel blockchains. This “multi-chain” design is built with self-sufficiency in mind. one thing that sets RChain apart is its commitment to blockchain development. The funds from their token offering are being reinvested in software development. Rchain is initially targeting supply chain issues for pharmaceuticals as a commercial use case.
- Click here for Rchain’s whitepaper.
Team size: 23
Founder: Leif-Nissen Lundbæk
Berlin-based Xain started as a research project at the University of Oxford to boost blockchain technology applications through AI. It uses machine learning algorithms, particularly reinforcement learning, to stabilise its Ethereum-based low-energy Blockchain. Its open platform focuses on small, low-energy IoT devices that can be embedded in other technology, such as cars. Last June, the company partnered with Porsche which is currently testing in-car blockchain applications. It is the first carmaker to do so. XAIN wants to use distributed machine learning to train self-driving cars on the basis of local data, such as weather conditions. The company is currently being bootstrapped with investment from its founders.
Team size: 56
Founder: Peter Yeo
The Xinfin platform is a hybrid one that borrows from Ethereum and Quorum, enabling it to support two different kinds of networks: firstly, the public network that all constituents are part of, and a private/permissioned network that restricts participation. And secondly, the private network state is maintained in its respective network but a record (hash) of transactions and smart contracts is stored on the public state of the blockchain. The purported advantages of this approach include transaction privacy, interoperability and support for other currencies. The platform aims to create an enabling ecosystem for blockchain-based projects to access infrastructure and financing. The platform runs on the XDC and XDCE tokens which are used for transactions within the network and are also tradable with other cryptocurrencies in the market. Its token offering in February 2018 through March 2018 raised $15 million.