You are probably no stranger to the merging worlds of IoT and blockchain. But how does NewSpace factor into the equation? We recently sat down with our CEO, Scott Larson, for some tech philosophizing. Our aim? To take a closer look at space-based blockchain and IoT, and what that untraditional infrastructure means for these two powerhouse technologies. Let’s dig in.
THESE DAYS, YOU CAN’T FIRE UP A WEB BROWSER WITHOUT SCROLLING PAST A BLOCKCHAIN OR IOT HEADLINE. THEY’RE BOTH TECHNOLOGIES DU JOURS. BUT SPACE-BASED BLOCKCHAIN/IOT IS ONLY JUST BEGINNING TO SHOW UP ON THE COLLECTIVE RADAR. SO, WHAT MAKES SPACE-BASED BLOCKCHAIN AND IOT SO DIFFERENT FROM TRADITIONALLY NETWORKED OPTIONS?
The philosophical point behind blockchain is that the ledger is distributed (hopefully broadly distributed) on nodes that aren’t in the hands or control of any one entity. But, when you look at many of the existing blockchains or crypto currencies, you realize that the opposite is true. The ledgers aren’t quite as distributed as might first be thought and the control isn’t democratized. Space changes that.
What we do is make all possible data available regardless of location — even in places out of reach of wifi and cell towers. So, it’s made easily accessible on earth and then essentially secured in orbit. We’re already in the midst of two movements related to IoT and blockchain. They are both changing the way that the world does business, and they are now in the process of merging. Throw space-based network infrastructure into the mix, and we’ll really begin to see push the limits of utility, security, and accessibility.
They say that IoT is the next industrial revolution, but it’s becoming even more than that as it converges with blockchain, M2M, and AI. In our Helios system, all of these technologies are employed at once to varying degrees, depending on the use and the industry. So, we’re providing a new kind of connectivity with disruptive technologies that are implemented at once. The end result is something that is far larger than the sum of its parts.
WHAT DOES A SPACE-BASED NETWORK MEAN FOR IOT, BLOCKCHAIN, AND THE ENSUING INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION? IN WHAT AREAS WILL WE SEE DISRUPTION?
I think you’ll see the biggest disruption in the areas of security and accessibility. Blockchain can provide secure transactions that pass through fewer processes and institutions, while space-based IoT can provide a backbone for those transactions, allowing them to be processed seamlessly away from wifi and cellular signals. That said, it can work in combination with traditional networks, so that the greater network is more powerful and provides more coverage.
Being both space and terrestrial based, that system is becomes far more secure than terrestrial based systems alone. A space-based IoT infrastructure means that blockchain ledgers and data can be “backed up” off-planet, which increased data and transaction security, utility and longevity. These abilities are especially important for the market applications that we focus on — ultra-high-volume market applications that are looking for affordable solutions, low bandwidth and low service costs.
WHICH INDUSTRIES STAND TO GAIN THE MOST FROM SPACE-BASED IOT/BLOCKCHAIN?
Space is good for things that are remote or where the local networks on the ground aren’t sufficient, either because of technical reasons, or environmental, or social. Space provides a non-terrestrial way to communicate with the most remote parts of the world. Adding blockchain to that provides further transparency and security for IoT data. It allows us to gather information in the most remote parts of the world and perform transactions.
I believe the industries that will benefit most from space-based ledgers are those that are gathering mission-critical data; infrastructure, energy, and transportation will be early anchor industries. As more satellites come online, our latency will decrease and we can offer services to more industries.
Our initial focus is on those industries that can accept some latency in terms of how fast they receive the data from their sensors. We have three satellites planned for the next 12 months, and that will give us about 5-hour delay globally. So, we are targeting industries that can accept that type of delay; specifically, infrastructure, asset monitoring, some transportation, agriculture, and the energy sector. Eventually, we’ll have 30 satellites that will give us a 15-minute delay, globally. That decrease in latency will also open up the amount of industries and applications we can service.
Blockchain is far more than bitcoin, though that’s what it’s associated with. Similarly, IoT goes far beyond stoves that will turn on and cook dinner for you. (As cool as that is.) When you start looking at it, there’s a seemingly endless list of use cases for this combination of technologies. Though there are certainly a few that stand out at this point as industries that stand to gain a lot from space-based connectivity technologies. Particularly, those industries and uses that cross borders and enter into or operate solely within remote areas. Those market areas would include asset monitoring, agriculture, energy and infrastructure. Often times, this tech crosses industries as far as the application is concerned — it’s really just that practical. The problem is that it isn’t quite yet accessible or affordable in the way it needs to be to truly become ubiquitous.
CAN YOU BREAKDOWN A FEW OF THESE INITIAL USE CASES FOR US?
In the case of infrastructure and asset monitoring, tracking the movements of expensive equipment over vast areas of land can be especially tricky, especially in remote locations. But with space-based network infrastructure and cross-border access to data acquisition, rugged terrain poses no limitations and no cell or wifi service is required. So space-based connectivity allows not only cost-saving but also the chance for entire projects to break ground where they might not have been able to before. It means there are no limits to where their IoT technologies can run.
Similarly, transportation of goods across large stretches of land, over rugged terrain, can create plenty of problems related to data acquisition. But space-based blockchain built upon IoT infrastructure provides a way to track and operate transactions across all stages of the supply chain.
Agriculture will be another area of initial focus for us, because it requires low-latency data acquisition and will be a great proof-of-concept for instant resource replenishment. For instance, a farmer’s soil monitors could detect a need for fertilizer, and thanks to M2M, that machine could automatically place an order to purchase more. Easy as that.
RIGHT NOW, ARE THERE ANY OTHER ORGANIZATIONS OUT THERE MERGING SPACE-BASED BLOCKCHAIN AND IOT?
As far as we know, Helios is set to become the first space-based IoT-blockchain system. Generally speaking, we’re quite different from other IoT/blockchain enablers in that we’re merging the two technologies, as well as M2M and machine learning. And we allow them all to operate in unison or individually.
Of course, the biggest difference is that our system is space-based. Which brings with it a number of initial challenges right now, but once tackled, we will change the game in respect to how these two technologies are implemented and the force of impact they will have. And, as with most New Space projects, the challenge isn’t really the technology or R&D, but the integration of existing technology into a system.
WHAT’S GIVING HELIOS THE ABILITY TO MERGE THESE TECHNOLOGIES WITHIN A SPACE-BASED FRAMEWORK?
There’s a combination of reasons here, but it all started with our unprecedented priority spectrum. Spectrum is rare — there are bidding wars for it — and Helios gained a massive allocation of it. Of course, different types of spectrum have different benefits. Helios has S-band spectrum (about 2 GHz frequency) which is ideal for short bursts of data, little pings that can be sent using a small, relatively inexpensive device on the ground.
Also, we have our team of experts, which is necessary because we’re operating in fairly new territory here. It’s not quite the wild west, but space is hard. Anything ‘high tech’ is plain hard. What we’re doing certainly has a measure of untamed potential, which can be extremely tricky to navigate.
WHAT ABOUT LARGE COMPANIES — HOW DOES THIS TECHNOLOGY SCALE?
Our capabilities will be cost effective, but also pretty powerful — especially as more satellites are deployed. And especially for companies (small or large) that operate in remote areas or cross through remote areas. Take, for instance, pipelines that need constant monitoring to protect inhabited land and sensitive environmental areas.
WILL GENERAL CONSUMERS BE ABLE TO REAP ANY BENEFITS HERE, OR MAINLY SMALL-TO-MID SIZED COMPANIES?
Democratization and accessibility are major drivers for us, which means that anyone should be able to afford to use this technology. From the tags to the access points, to the web app — all of these will be very inexpensive to use. You won’t have to be a Monsanto or even a small supply chain to be able to reap the benefits here. Even a farmer in India with a handful of fields can use this technology affordably. If that’s not the case, then the tech hasn’t been truly democratized yet.
To learn more about the Helios system, please email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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