The World of Blockchain: Living Beyond the Map
Before his death at Princeton, Albert Einstein believed “A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘Universe’, but a part limited in time and space, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”
Since time and space are eternally intertwined, geospatial data is equally at the heart of our modern-day existence and the entire protocol behind Ethereum-backed startup, FOAM. The geospatial data company is making a consensus-driven map of the world that rivals GPS as the first permissionless, autonomous network of radio beacons offering secure location-based services — all powered by its own users called ‘cartographers.’
FOAM primarily curates and verifies geospatial data by points of interest (POI). POIs are visualized on FOAM’s Map, which is supported by their Spatial Index web app. Through beacons or ‘zone anchors,’ staked by cartographers buying FOAM tokens, an object’s location is triangulated on an autonomously self-stabilizing time synchronization protocol. When four zone anchors synchronize their time to triangulate the precise position of objects, Proof of Location (PoL) is verified and saved on the blockchain, doing what GPS could never do: provide value for users directly, paying cartographers for reporting accurate location data.
Incentivizing Proof of Location
FOAM’s CCO, Katya Zavyalova, believes their growing technology stack of geospatial applications not only boasts the blockchain building blocks to rebuild maps entirely, but improves the precision of current GPS systems with their dynamic PoL. Recent use cases calculated PoL accuracy within a range of 4 meters (or 15 feet) determining a single location placed amongst large city coordinates, regardless of architectural obstructions or population density.
More cartographers means more accurate data, which can also be mined and challenged by zone anchors who report additional blockchain proof to time-synchronized verifiers; this ensures an ironclad PoL for any object in transit.
After a successful $16.5 million token sale in August 2018, 30 percent of FOAM tokens serve as the monetary quality-control mechanism for its current cartographers. Zavyalova implores FOAM’s users of any open source map systems like Google Maps or Waze to own their personal location information – and get rewarded for it: from tracking shipments to supply chain management, participating in location-based games like Pokémon GO, or even executing smart contracts with proof of insurance for the Internet of Things (IoT).
Ultimately, FOAM is meant to be “a cross between a Bloomberg trading terminal and Google Maps,” as described by CEO Ryan King in The Atlantic. King describes FOAM as the only PoL project “providing full-stack location services to start a whole new infrastructure” and intends to make location “holistic” in terms of infallible information.
New Normal Architecture
As a member of The New Normal think tank, a platform for the invention and articulation of a new discourse and models, it is not surprising that Zavyalova studied architectural design:
Architecture in general is an outdated financial model. Our first interest in blockchain technologies and tokenized incentives were to provide cryptoeconomics as an alternative financial model for both open source programs and the architecture of the internet.”
While still seeking corporate partnerships, FOAM’s protocol remains open source in hopes “to build communities with real and social value that rewards users with accurate information.” Yet Zavyalova doesn’t see FOAM as a direct competitor to current location-based services: “We provide an additional layer to further secure and self-regulate cryptocurrency infrastructures in new decentralized ecosystems of business and blockchain models.”
Currently, GPS fails to create financial incentives for contributors, still experiences difficulties in real-time authentication, and the entire infrastructure remains extremely vulnerable to cyberattacks. While GPS dominates navigation systems, a class of decentralized radio powers FOAM protocol itself: Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN). LPWAN offers the low power and longer battery life of bluetooth with the wide range of cellular networks.
Corporate companies could finally offer location-based products for “location fraud,” especially automotive, transportation, delivery, or supply chain industries. Zavyalova notes, “people already want to use it. We see the entire network as a hybrid of zone anchors run by people or companies themselves, granting an option to share PoL data privately and choose how to communicate with different networks.”
Yet investors and users alike may be timid to invest in cryptocurrency technology, considering financial returns take longer to reap. The last couple of years have shown massive volatility in tokenized markets; Bitcoin crashed more than 75 percent since its peak and competitors still struggle to recover since January’s historic losses.
However, Zavyalova views Bitcoin and Ethereum design as uniquely distinct. “Bitcoin was designed solely as a cryptocurrency and can only have monetary transactions written into blocks. Ethereum can build enterprise solutions with varying applications using smart contracts.” Smart contract applications include verifying time and location to settle an insurance claim or to digitally notarize legal documentation. For instance, if a car accident occurred, FOAM can provide critical PoL data to support when, where, how the accident occurred, and confirm if you really were at the scene.
The applications for FOAM are nearly endless: legal documentation, insurance claims, interactive gaming, AR marketing, public and social utilities, or improved identification systems for law enforcement and rescue operations. But perhaps most interesting about FOAM’s potential use cases is the company’s quiet emergence amongst a feverish sociopolitical climate hungry for a secured, safer way to institute tokenized voting for local or national elections.
Reinventing voting isn’t a primary priority for FOAM, but it could position the company to be an economic and political powerhouse that both general users and voters trust. “Decentralized technologies organize groups in new ways when you have the right infrastructure. This extends to tokenized voting where the organization of communities is without a need for central authority,” explains Zavyalova. She continues:
“It’s a great system. No one has access, no one can hack it. Not even us. People can have tokens locked into a smart contact, vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and their decision is encrypted for a time period, say like three days. When the period closes, the votes are tallied during a review, where users would submit a cryptographic key to unlock and confirm their vote. The system is truly decentralized. You couldn’t vote with the same tokens while they are locked during the voting and review period.”
The world may be getting smaller, but geospatial data proves there is much more blockchain terrain to explore. While the passage of time and space always redraws the map, FOAM welcomes a crypto-reality confirming things are where they are, when they claim to be there, and with the right people at the intersection of blockchain democratization and cryptocurrency technology.
We luckily happen to be here, at the right time and place, as Einstein predicted: “A human being is part of a whole called by us ‘Universe’ — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”