Even Pokemon Go might need a blockchain.
While an augmented reality mobile app used to collect funny-looking, digital critters might sound like a silly (or useless) service to re-architect with blockchain, the developers at ethereum startup FOAM make a compelling case.
“The problem is that people lie about their location,” said Ryan John King, the co-founder and CEO of FOAM. Using a range of tutorials across the web, a tech-savvy Pokemon Go player could easily trick the game into thinking they’re in Hong Kong, catching all the unique Pokemon there when really they’re sitting in their apartment in Brooklyn, New York, he said.
That’ll be news to many since most people use GPS (the Global Positioning System) flawlessly on a daily basis.
King told CoinDesk:
“People think location is a solved problem.”
But it goes beyond the fact that shrewd Pokemon Go users could manipulate the system; King believes today’s GPS system, in its centralized form provided by the U.S. government, is insecure and prone to failure.
As such, FOAM developers want to build a technology that mirrors GPS but is instead an open technology that anyone can contribute to. And to do this, the team needs a particularly resilient map of the entire world, which they plan to devise with the help of ethereum smart contracts.
During Ethereal, an artsy ethereum conference in New York City in May, the FOAM team demoed their beta product, Spatial Index, which the website calls “a cross between a Bloomberg trading terminal and Google Maps.” The map shows all the locations of radio beacons deployed by users, which are represented as smart contracts on the Rinkeby testnet, a copy of the ethereum blockchain used for testing purposes.
And with that, FOAM then has joined the likes of Golem and Augur as a project arousing excitement in the community for its unique use of the ethereum blockchain.
Coinbase engineer Jacob Horne is so enthusiastic he called the FOAM product “the base layer for entire new economies.” And ConsenSys developer Simon de la Rouviere said that re-reading the whitepaper “just blows my mind again.”
Games and beyond
The secret behind FOAM’s work is the company’s “proof of location,” a cryptographic method for proving that a user has actually been at a certain location.
This technique will be used to build a secure location-based collection game, something that mixes the gameplay of Pokemon Go with that of CryptoKitties, the popular ethereum-based application for buying, trading and breeding digital cats – and where no one can cheat.
Speaking to this, King said, “We need something open source and horizontal and for anyone to plug into. With FOAM, you can build an app where you unlock a CryptoKitty only when you visit a particular location.”
And this idea is tantalizing to many, including Matt Condon, lead maintainer of ethereum library OpenZeppelin, who tweeted:
“I’m so, so excited for tokenized assets plus a proof-of-location protocol like FOAM. The real Pokemon Go will be possible.”
And while FOAM is starting with games, the team thinks the technology has potential far beyond this use case.
For instance, King believes the technology could be beneficial for supply chain management as well. Whether for food or jewelry, developers and entrepreneurs are looking to disrupt the global system of tracking consumer goods throughout its life cycle with blockchains.
As such, FOAM has begun working with ethereum-based supply chain startup, Viant, which recently demoed its product in tracking tuna from the waters of Fiji to the plates of Ethereal conference goers.
Technology and tokens
So how will all this work in practice? With low power wide area networks (LPWAN), a new type of emerging network used in many internet-of-things devices.
LPWAN technology, which costs between $1o and $30, allows anyone to contribute to FOAM’s map, beaming location information to the ethereum blockchain. And a significant number of people have already begun participating, although it’s far from covering the whole world just yet. But the Spatial Index beta does show that the idea works in practice.
“Deploying a LPWAN, just like a blockchain, is permissionless,” the FOAM blog post explaining the Spatial Index says.
Still, decentralizing location data has been on the minds of many for some time.
As such, FOAM believes its key differentiator will be its crypto token – to be released through a token sale later this summer. To King, the token will incentivize people to deploy LPWAN and contribute location data to its service, moving existing location protocols, which have not succeeded in attracting many users, forward.
According to FOAM co-founder and CTO Kristoffer Josefsson, though, the product is still quite far from the team’s grand vision. So far, the platform is up and running on the ethereum testnet, and the team is stress-testing the radio technology in an effort to come up with the final specification.
Once that’s done, they’ll run the token sale, and then push FOAM to the ethereum mainnet.
King told CoinDesk:
“Then, anyone can be a cartographer and help come up with a consensus-driven map of the world.”