This is a guest post from Adam Mashrique, creator of BlockThing.
In the near future, autonomous drones carrying remote sensing equipment can be paid $0.25 in bitcoin and the drone can then provide crop monitoring data instantly to farmers. Paying $25 may allow its flight path to be rerouted to make a special delivery or provide aerial footage to a current news event. Running low on power supply, the drone can then autonomously negotiate with a nearby bitcoin-enabled power outlet on the ground for a quick recharge before continuing on its other assigned tasks.
Sounds like a science fiction movie? The future is actually much nearer than anticipated.
Internet-of-Things is kicking off very quickly with multiple semiconductor companies offering cheap and tiny embedded platforms with Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity. With these functionalities, these general purpose microcontrollers can be programmed to perform tasks and provide sensory data in exchange for digital payment, either from other people, research institutions or even fellow machines. Cheap, mesh connected sensor nodes that can receive payments will enable cost-effective, fine-grained data collection for any willing buyer.
Pay an ESP8266, Do Interesting Stuff
BlockThing is a device running firmware for interacting with the blockchain and is a cloud-based management suite. The first prototype is based on Espressif Systems' ESP8266 WiFi System on Chip (SoC) device. ESP8266 development boards are readily available from retailers such as Adafruit very cheaply and has a huge following in the makerspace as a result. Community collaboration has made it compatible with the popular Arduino IDE and libraries for hardware interfacing. Using the Arduino core, BlockThing can make TLS authenticated requests to online resources and connect to other BlockThings to form a mesh network. Another prototype will be built on top of the Onion Omega, a more powerful $25 board that runs OpenWRT Linux.
The BlockThing prototype connects with Blockcypher, a blockchain API to retrieve bitcoin balance information from a public address. Since all transaction data is public and pseudonymous, the BlockThing is spared from dealing with sensitive banking information nor does it require credentialed access, minimizing security considerations. A merchant with multiple BlockThing terminals will have access to a web-based front-end with a real-time display of all transactions and configuration options for each BlockThing node. Amazon has a beta cloud service tailored for IoT devices that the BlockThing manager can be based on.
Upcoming embedded platforms will feature long range LPWAN radios, powerful CPUs and flexible I/O at low cost. Putting blockchain payments capability in these devices will bolster a widespread sharing economy and create new ways of commerce.
If you have a ESP8266 board, you can tinker with the sketch file on our Github page and build your own BlockThing. Looking forward to seeing your creation!