Better a device on a chain than one on strings

Authors: Dominic Wörner (ETH Zurich)

I’m a PhD student at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, a research associate at the Bosch IoT Lab, and currently a visiting student at the Human Dynamics group of the MIT Media Lab.

I’m interested in the application of Blockchain technology to address challenges that are reinforced with the trend towards the Internet of Things and ubiquitous computing. Arguably these main challenges are interoperability, privacy and security.

The prevailing client-server or cloud-based architecture of the Internet of Things has not been successful in reaching this goal [1]. Furthermore, this model blurs the concept of ownership. Although a consumer may physically own a product root access often stays with the manufacturer [2], and can be remotely disabled [3]. In addition, digital services of the product are usually accessed through web services offered by the manufacturer. In my view ownership of devices and access management to IoT resources is a promising application of Blockchain technology and could thereby support a scalable distributed Web of Things. A related issue with connected devices is how can they authenticate themselves and get authorized when there is no user sitting at a keyboard. The native existence of currency within public blockchain networks furthermore allows to establish an economy for (or access to) IoT resources providing additional incentives for interoperability and fine-granular monetization without backend infrastructure.

Companies that are working on some aspects of this view are Filament [4] and [5].

This topic is closely related to other position statements concerned with identities on blockchains and blockchains as part of identity infrastructures. These discussions should include connected devices.


  • [1] Zhang, B., Mor, N., Kolb, J., Chan, D.S., Lutz, K., Allman, E., Wawrzynek, J., Lee, E. and Kubiatowicz, J., 2015. The cloud is not enough: saving iot from the cloud. In 7th USENIX Workshop on Hot Topics in Cloud Computing (HotCloud 15).
  • [2]
  • [3]
  • [4]
  • [5]