Filament Is Making Blockchain IIoT as Easy as USB

Filament’s Blocklet Chip comes in a USB form factor (shown) that allows existing industrial IoT devices to communicate and transact using blockchain. (Image source: Filament) 

Has 2018 been the year of enterprise production blockchain? Blockchain technology is moving into more and more commercial and enterprise applications—from supply chain, to energy production, and even potential automotive applications. The ever-expanding Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is going to require solutions for automation and security alongside its solutions for connectivity. And blockchain, with its promise of facilitating encrypted, automated, and verifiable transactions between systems, looks poised to be the answer. But while interest in blockchain technology is growing, with it comes a new challenge for engineers and companies looking to implement it. Very simply, how can they do so easily and efficiently?

Reno, Nevada-based Filament, a startup focused on providing enterprise blockchain solutions, believes it has the answer in the form of a hardware solution. Earlier this year, Filament announced a beta version of its Blocklet Chip, a chip designed to communicate and interact with multiple blockchain technologies natively. Essentially, it allows any IIoT device to use multiple blockchain technologies (or currencies) for communication. The Blocklet chip is designed to be implemented into any device in development.

Filament also recently announced a solution for existing devices in the form of a Blocklet USB device. According to the company, the Blocklet USB solution, which the company is now making available for pilot and proof of concept projects, can be used on any system with a USB port. It is designed to interact with multiple blockchains natively. The aim is to let companies facilitate blockchain transactions on their machines simply by plugging in a USB device and installing the requisite software.

Filament’s CEO, Allison Clift-Jennings, has said that blockchain will have an impact akin to what e-commerce has done for the Internet, creating entire shifts in business models for whole industries. She and her team at Filament believe a hardware-based approach is the best one for an industrial landscape that will increasingly require “trust” and security among devices. “Most people really don’t think of physical chips and blockchains going together,” Clift-Jennings told Design News. “But fundamentally, all that blockchain does, from a data structure standpoint, is provide trust or specify trust in a poorly trustable environment or nontaxable environment. So it’s not that [blockchain] establishes trust when there isn’t any; it’s more that it specifies very explicitly how parties will interact with each other.”

She continued, “When you start talking about trust as this atomic unit rather than data, which is what most of the IoT is, trust fundamentally ends up having to protect a private cryptographic key. And when you boil it all down, in anything in the security world, you need a hardware location for the cryptographic keys to reside securely. Without that hardware—what we call a secure element or secure enclave—you simply cannot build higher order trust on top of that.”

Touch ID for Machines”

Clift-Jennings said that what Filament is attempting to accomplish with Blocklet is not at all unlike what Apple has done with Touch ID and Face ID in its products. “These are separate chips in the phones that do something very similar in that they are trying to drive for human authentication authorization. We’re trying to drive to a blockchain native machine authorization authentication. So another way to look at it is like we’re Touch ID for machines.”