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8 'blockhain hacks' which NITI Aayog, AWS, Microsoft, Accel, Coinbase believe are beneficial for society

Harshith Mallya
22nd Nov 2017
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NITI Aayog along with Proffer, a blockchain startup founded by graduates of MIT and Harvard, organised a Blockchain summit and hackathon at IIT Delhi from Nov 10-13, 2017. The end objective of the event was to explore how blockchain architectures could enable a new digital infrastructure for India, improve efficiency, transparency, privacy, and cost across all sectors.

Proffer Co-founders, Anshul Bhagi and Sinchan Banerjee shared that about 1,900 students and young professionals from 28 countries signed up to participate in-person and remotely for the hackathon. The applicants were vying for $17,000 in prizes for blockchain-based applications for societal good.

L to R- Sinchan Banerjee and Anshul Bhagi from Proffer at IIT Delhi

In the end, 93 participants from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, IITs, and top engineering institutions from India and around the world submitted projects, tackling problems in areas like government and enterprise infrastructure, automotive/agricultural/pharmaceutical supply chains, insurance, micro-finance, peer-to-peer lending, AI data privacy, energy markets, e-voting on elections and government programs, crowdfunding public goods, crowdsourced information exchange, and more.

During this hackathon, NITI Aayog (Government of India), Proffer, and the partners like Microsoft, AWS, Accel Partners, IBM and Toshi jointly envisioned what a new digital infrastructure for India could look like and where blockchain might make a difference.

Anshul and Sinchan said that given the unique structure of this hackathon they allowed participants to work on three main infrastructures, namely Ethereum dApps and contracts, Hyperledger dApps and contracts and Toshi dApps.

The hype and misconceptions around Blockchain and cryptocurrency

Gif credit- Proffer

Addressing the gathering on day one. Anshul said that there is a lot of hype and misconceptions related to blockchain. He explained that outside of a small group of crypto-savvy investors and developers, blockchain is often synonymous with cryptocurrency, and erroneously so. Their goal with this hackathon was to give developers (with or without past blockchain experience) a chance to envision how the same distributed ledger technology that powers Bitcoin might be able to improve transparency, efficiency, and honesty in enterprise and government processes, particularly in regions of the world suffering from high corruption. He said,

The objective of this hackathon was to look beyond “currency” use cases to see how blockchain technology can make a difference to governments, economies, businesses, and individuals, and we the Proffer team were blown away by the use cases you envisioned and created during this three-day event.

Anshul added that another objective of the event was to explore use cases for concepts like IndiaChain — a blockchain infrastructure for a Digital India, building on existing initiatives like Aadhar, the world’s largest biometric identity project with unique 12-digit IDs for 1.2 billion Indian residents.

Some of the Hackathon participants at work at IIT Delhi

The hackathon

The hackathon partners defined three problem areas that they believed are significant and conducive to the use of blockchain technology:

  1. Finance,
  2. Information exchange,
  3. Enterprise/Government infrastructure.

After a week of deliberation by a panel of judges from Coinbase, IBM, Microsoft, Harvard, BoostVC, and Government of India, the results were declared. Keeping in line with the vision for “IndiaChain,” NITI Aayog, the government’s thinktank, made a special mention of projects focusing on IndiaChain use cases. Here are eight hack projects recognised by the partners.

1. SWASHchain: a battery SWApping and SHaring infrastructure verified on the blockchain

Team: Dinesh Kumaran Nagarajan, Manoranjith A Ponraj, Dhruv Bhandula (engineers @ Bosch) (Code)

Award- Government of India prize for potential impact to the Indian economy — invite to pitch idea at GES2017

The SWASH system tracks ownership and transfer of batteries on a transparent, tamper-proof ledger, charging the user for acquisition (deposit) and consumption (fee). Stats about battery consumption are written to the blockchain directly by Battery Management Systems running on each node/Battery Service Station where users transact.

2. AgroChain: tracking farm products from farmer to consumer

Team: Nikhil V Chandran, Adarsh S, and Anoop VS (from IIITM-K) (Code)

Award- Government of India prize for potential impact to the Indian economy — invite to pitch idea at GES2017

A blockchain-based transparent marketplace where farmers and consumers can implement a co-operative farming method. Here, the farmers can list the potential crops and the expected yield on their farm on the distributed public ledger. The consumers can view the details and check for the farmer credibility based on the previous cultivation and supply.

This creates a transparent and tamper-proof digital market platform for farm products. Thus an agreement can be formed between farmer and consumer, such that the consumer can fund individual crops or a field and can acquire or the yield from the farm or the profit percentage of its market value.

Farmers on the marketplace will be able to raise funds for cultivation while securing customers (the investors). Simultaneously, customers can ensure quality products at lesser price with an early investment on the crops. Both the customers and farmers could yield profit and build an environment for future cooperation.

Awards from partners AWS, Accel and Toshi-

3. chAIn: decentralised AI with Homomorphic Encryption to guarantee data privacy

Team: Anush Ravi (Oxford) and Nikhila Ravi (Cambridge) (Code)

Awarded $5000 in AWS Credits

chAIn allows Machine Learning models to be trained on patient healthcare data, customers’ bank statements, etc. without “seeing” the data. It uses a special form of encryption known as “Homomorphic Encryption” to encrypt models so that clients and patients can train those models with their data offline, and then submit encrypted gradients back to the model owner without needing to send any of their data.

Model owners can measure the improvement that each encrypted gradient creates on the encrypted model, and reward clients for their contribution to the improvement of the model accordingly using smart contract logic.

4. Betoken: decentralised Hedge Fund for social impact investing

Team: Zebang Liu and Owen Shen (University of California, San Diego) (Code)

Award- Microsoft Prize ($4000 USD)

Traditional hedge funds have high barriers to entry for casual retail investors. Additionally, their centralised structure means that one has to trust the fund to allocate resources. The team noted that there is currently no easy way for the masses to financially coordinate and invest, nor to reward successful investors.

Betoken is a fully decentralised ERC20 token hedge fund anyone can join, which uses its own internal prediction market to make investment decisions. Over time, as participants make profitable investments, they gain Control Tokens, which give them greater decision-making control over where the funds should be directed, as well as a greater percentage of the returns.

Betoken's incentive system aims to reward accurate forecasters, and thus make it a win-win for the entire group fund. The team also believes that Betoken has significant applications in social impact investing because it puts choice of where to put the funds (e.g. charities, non-profits, or social enterprises) in the hands of an open and self-managed community.

5. Open Complaint Network: crowdsourcing issues and rewards

Team: Abhishek Upperwal and Titiksha Vashist (Indian Institute of Science) (Code)

Award- $1.5K USD Prize from Accel Partners

Decentralised system for lodging complaints, both civil and criminal, onto a network that uses blockchain to provide transparency, accountability, and prevents tampering, while also engaging citizens and police personnel on national scale.

6. 0xSHG: zero-interest loans for rural microfinance 

Team: Arjun Bahuguna, Souradeep Das, Krishna Jangid from SRM University (Code)

Award- $1.5K USD Prize from Accel Partners

Microfinance institutions are essential to economic sustenance of rural finance and small businesses. Initiatives like Self Help Groups (SHGs) have been changing lives of rural populations. Problems in rural communities are both financial (interests, maintenance of accounts) and organisational (central authority => corruption).

Hence the team believes that blockchains are a unique solution which address both issues by organising not just financial capital but also social capital. The team has created an Aadhar-linked capital-pooling network. They note,

Through this network, maximum possible microloan requests are fully funded with 0 percent interest (least request satisfied first) and the reserve wealth is re-distributed into the system. People can exit the network by requesting their deposited money, which they’ll receive once the loans given are repayed. This systems allows workers to not only fund each other, but also get microloans for seed-funding their own businesses.

7. SureFly: last-minute crowdfunded insurance for flight delays 

Team: Siddharth Barpanda (BITS Pilani), Saransh Garg (IIT Bombay), Nabeel Kausari (Bangalore) (Code)

Award- Coinbase/Toshi Prize ($2500 ETH )

SureFly proposed a smart-contract based, peer-to-peer insurance product for last-minute flight-delay situations in which a passenger can purchase an insurance plan crowdfunded from a set of peers. Insurance premium is calculated as a function of the probability that a passenger will miss a flight which is in turn a function of flight time, insurance seeker’s distance from the airport, traffic on the roads, length of airport lines, etc.

The team's submission includes a front-end app built on Toshi as well as a smart contract written for Ethereum that manages the insurance pool and moves money around between insurers and the insured.

8. MyH2OBot for “Habit Economics” 

Team: Niraj Swami (U. Chicago) (Code)

Award- Coinbase/Toshi Prize ($2500 ETH )

The team created a Toshi app, called My H2O that has an interesting take on ‘habit economics’. MyH2OBot holds a stake of a user's money ($5, in ETH) when one is aspiring to start a new healthy habit (like drinking more water). The user sends pictures of their activity (more sensors to be added in the future) to the bot, which then analyses them using some AI to calculate rewards that one earn backs from their stake.

The team says that the rewards will be smarter and personalised to the user's context — the quicker one posts ‘good habits’, the faster they earn their stake back. The team noted,

With My H2O, we’re bringing a financial-angle on the blockchain to make habits more fun and motivating to start & keep. And, of course, imagine what happens when we open up our ecosystem to other reward gives like family members, medical providers and insurance groups.

You can find more details about the hacks and the hackathon and event here

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