TNO and partners are working on practical applications of the promising blockchain technology as part of the Techruption Blockchain programme, a unit of the Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen. Companies large and small, start-ups and knowledge institutions have joined forces to work on innovations and practical applications in the field of blockchain technology
Techruption is a new community where companies and researchers cooperate on the IT opportunities and challenges of tomorrow. TNO is in charge of the programme in the area of blockchain application development and testing. The BISS Institute (an alliance between Maastricht University, Zuyd University of Applied Sciences and the Open University), APG, the Province of Limburg and the Brightlands Smart Services Campus (BSSC) are also involved in this initiative with international aspirations in the field of blockchain technology.
Blockchain programme with ambition
“The idea behind the Techruption programme arose when the founders of BSSC suggested it would be interesting to launch a blockchain programme. Blockchain can potentially be instrumental in giving teeth to the campus’s motto: ‘from data to smart services to enhance quality of life’. We at TNO set up the programme. The entire campus is abuzz with ambition, and that’s great,” says Pieter Verhagen of TNO. Peter is the blockchain programme manager at Techruption.
“We were looking for an expert partner in this field, and knew that TNO would fit the bill.”
The Techruption Blockchain programme was launched at BSSC in Heerlen on 20 January 2017. “The program really suits us, because we are developing an ecosystem of students, researchers, start-ups, SMEs and large companies and institutions. Together, they are working on devising new innovations in the field of smart services. Blockchain is one of the three pillars of the Techruption programme, alongside artificial intelligence and climate change. We were looking for an expert partner in that field, and knew that TNO would fit the bill. Moreover, TNO is already involved in Brightlands in other areas, for example at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus,” says Peter Verkoulen, CEO of BSSC.
New digital revolution
Blockchain has been called the first new digital revolution since the internet. It is a technology that enables the safer, more efficient and easier exchange of digital information as a decentralized concept. Each transaction is decentralized and is recorded transparently and irrevocably, without the intervention of a third party. “Blockchain carries the promise of making intermediaries unnecessary. The computers of all participants in the chain create mathematical agreements based on ‘shared truth’. The blockchain phenomenon is currently surrounded by a lot of hype, but in fact it is a burgeoning and powerful technology that can eventually be seamlessly integrated into all kinds of consumer services and administrative applications,” explains Verhagen. This can have a major impact on sectors such as energy supply, financial services, logistics and, eventually, healthcare.
The main objective at Techruption is to facilitate joint innovation in the field of blockchain technology. “Our goal in this programme is to get blockchain technology ready for Dutch industry and to get Dutch industry ready for blockchain technology. We help companies discover how they can derive added value from blockchain,” says TNO’s Christopher Brewster, who is the Scientific Coordinator at Techruption. “This is no ordinary research programme, because we are dependent on the questions and problems that participants encounter as they develop and deploy the technology. We play a unifying role, bringing various parties together, while also providing substantive expertise and technical know-how.”
“Our aim is to give that all-important initial boost to new blockchain technologies that will go on to shake up the market”
Verhagen adds that Techruption is a special place because of the open kimono policy: everyone shares information and keeps no secrets. “Everything is in place at Techruption for exploring uncharted and fragile territory. Multiple parties collaborate on a blockchain project until it is viable and ready to be deployed. They are then at liberty to decide on their next steps from a business point of view. Our primary aim is to give that all-important initial boost to new technologies that will go on to shake up the market”, says Verhagen. “Techruption is really about hands-on issues and real-world deployment, rather than basic research. TNO is a perfect match in terms of technique and culture. It’s all about rolling up your sleeves and putting your shoulder to the wheel”, says Verkoulen resolutely.
Blockchain technology is still in its infancy and there are plenty of challenges yet to be overcome. “We are focussing on various themes. For example, we are looking at how blockchain can be used in business and in society. Challenging topics include identity management, legislation and regulations, and ultimately scaling up the technology,” explains Brewster. A reliable digital identity is a requirement in many blockchain applications. “We are helping to overcome this hurdle by working with the National Blockchain Coalition on new online identity solutions based on the blockchain principle”, adds Verhagen. “But we also want to develop and deploy useful applications now, so we’re in a bit of a quandary.”
“Our way of working is not just about innovation, but it is innovative in and of itself”
Getting big companies on the same page when it comes to governance is yet another challenge. “Our way of working is not just about innovation, but it is innovative in and of itself. Our approach is new for the lawyers and others working for partner organizations, so formalizing agreements can sometimes take more time than expected. It’s all necessary and logical, though, because it’s important to have clarity on issues such as intellectual property,” says Verkoulen.
Currently, about ten major companies and organizations and a number of start-ups are involved in the Techruption programme. “In the time to come we will be identifying potential new partners, and interested parties are of course welcome to approach us!” states Verkoulen.
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