A look into the Skycoin hardware incubator

The Skycoin hardware incubator is a key aspect of Skycoin’s goal to onboard millions of people by prototyping and manufacturing low-cost hardware devices that are easy to use. This forms part of the second layer of the so-called ‘Skycoin Blueprint for Universal Adoption’.

Low-cost, easy-to-use hardware forms part of the usability on-ramp for mass adoption of Skycoin.

Skycoin is one of the few crypto projects, and the only cryptocurrency platform, to manufacture its own first-party hardware devices (1st generation Skyminer and the imminently-released Skywallet). Apple revolutionized the computer industry by vertically-integrating hardware, software and UI to make a highly usable product. Skycoin is clearly attempting to do the same with cryptocurrency.

Current hardware projects

These are the projects that are currently in development in the Skycoin incubator, as described by lead developer Synth in his various interviews and AMAs

  • 1st generation Skyminer — built from 8 Orange Pi boards
  • Skywallet (Trezor-like hardware wallet)
  • Directional, point-to-point motorized WiFi antennas — highly accurate, long range WiFi antennas designed for community ISPs and bridging the ‘last mile’ between customers and fiber optic hubs
  • Long-range radio nodes — low bandwidth, long distance radio node designed for developing nations or disaster zones
  • 2nd generation Skyminers — upgraded Skyminers with faster bandwidth processing
  • Custom OpenWRT router — a router designed specifically for the Skyminer device
  • Skycoin custom ARM processor boards — optimized for Skycoin encryption/decryption computations, possibly used in a range Skycoin hardware devices
[From the November community update] CNC milling machine for Skycoin hardware wallet metal casings (top left), gold-plated Skyminer and antenna prototypes (top right), Skycoin CPU board (bottom left) and antenna gain testing (bottom right three).

Purported/under-development

The following hardware devices have been mentioned by Synth in passing and may be under various stages of development -

  • FPGA Skyminers — these use specially programmed chips that are optimized for a particular use, in this case forwarding encrypted packets on Skywire, the new decentralized internet.
  • Secure crypto laptop, phone and terminal-like hardware wallet — fully custom hardware and software devices designed exclusively for managing with large amounts of cryptocurrency in a secure manner. Based on the Skycoin custom ARM chip and with no extraneous features. Targeted at institutions, banks, etc requiring the highest standards of security.
  • Poker-chip like hardware wallet — a bearer instrument that allows you to transact in Skycoin without making an onchain transaction. The device is loaded with coins and physically handed it over in exchange for goods and services.

Tools of Skycoin Incubator

Synth described the manufacturing tools that the hardware incubator has acquired or in the process of acquiring (Telegram message):

  • 6 micron closed loop CNC machines that are better than apple has
  • ultra-sonic welders
  • x-ray equipment for images voids/quality insurance inspection
  • 3d printers for prototyping. Currently PLA, but soon will have SLA (the price per gram dropped massively in the last year and the surface finish is pretty good).
  • electro-plating equipment for wallet prototypes
  • cold plasma generators for surface finish/etching
  • vacuum jigs for holding and automated load/unloading of aluminum blanks from CNC
  • friction stir welding
  • high temperature hydrogen/hydroxy or arc torches for welding and flame polishing aluminum/magnesium
  • medium end open loop CNC machines for quick prototypes
  • vacuum chambers for resin/epoxy polymer casting
  • CNC bits for bevels for hardware prototypes
  • 433 mhz, 700 mhz, 2.4 ghz, 5 ghz, 24 ghz frequency generators for meshnet, modulators, spectrum analyzers
  • 1 giga-sample per second oscilloscope with computer read out
  • software for ASIC simulation for analog linear feedback registers
  • FPGAs boards, equipment, $4 FPGA boards with DAC 4-mega sample per second
  • JTAG QA testers for arm, MCU, networking equipment, QA of tested boards
  • heterodyne mixer boards with SMA connectors
  • 2 ton cast iron base for CNC machine
  • argon tanks
  • LORA modules and Frequency Shift Spread Spectrum (FSK) radio modules
  • systems for producing silicon molds and mold boxes for low temperature epoxy resin casting
  • x-ray spectrometer for material testing (which is actually in the office but is not setup yet)
  • custom 2.4 ghz, 5 ghz, 24 ghz, planar PCB patch antennas with SMA ports
  • special, custom linear brushless motors with two level optical encoder and teflon geared drive train for skywire antenna (possibly will use worm gear). We can now make on our lathe out of teflon rod stock and on the CNC with teflon sheet stock.
  • 5 ghz digital, programmable delay lines and frequency shifters for 5 ghz phased array Skywire antennas
  • new MCU (which will reduce the cost of the skycoin hardware wallet 50%)
  • high speed, 40 megapixel, 240 HZ, optical inspection cameras with orthogonal projection lens
  • small electric refactory furnaces for cast ceramic parts for prototyping
  • cold plasma and magnetron sputter gun for surface finishing and material deposition via stencil
  • laser engraving machine (like used at shopping mall to etch text into iPhone and cell phone casing)
  • equipment for testing moisture, temperature, humidity, UV effects on skyminer antennas equipment (simulated weathering)
  • ETC.

I am preparing the war plan now. For the next two years.

And all of the staff is in place to execute on the plan. We are currently looking at four different locations or campuses for R&D/testing to move the college students/interns.

This reads as a very strong statement of intent with regard to Skycoin’s future hardware manufacturing plans!

The manufacturing process

I was interested in thinking how Skycoin might go about manufacturing enough hardware to facilitate true global adoption of Skycoin. If the project takes off as Synth and the team plan, then enormous numbers of Skyminers, wireless mesh antennas, hardware wallets, etc. will need to be made and shipped. There appears to be a couple of options with regard to large-scale manufacturing —

In-house manufacturing

As was the case with the first two batches of official Skyminers and now the hardware wallets. The Skycoin organization has directly led the production of these hardware under the direction of the specific incubator team.

The advantages of this approach is that the Skycoin team can ensure the final product fits its specifications directly. This is particularly important for hardware wallets that might be compromized along the supply chain if not purchased directly from the manufacturer.

Outsourcing manufacturing

The enormous technical manufacturing capabilities of Chinese companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen means that Skycoin could easily outsource production. As is the case with traditional tech companies like Apple, Skycoin could have different components made by different manufacturers and assembled centrally.

Licensing/endorsing 3rd party manufacturing

Allow existing hardware companies to make a 3rd-party Skyminer devices according to specific specifications that are compatible with Skywire and the Skycoin software standards.

Open sourcing to the DIY community

The most scalable option is open-sourcing hardware development to the do-it-yourself (DIY) community. This has been successful in the case of the DIY Skyminers, which has spawned an amazing range of innovative designs.

This is an exciting prospect because people are innovative and can leverage crowd knowledge to overcome manufacturing issues and find the cheapest price and process. The maker movement and the 3D printing movement are highly suited to building mesh networking hardware in a decentralized manner.

Some of the innovative DIY Skyminer devices built by the Skycoin community in building out Skywire, the new decentralized internet protocol that allows users to buy and sell bandwidth in a peer-to-peer network.

Making money on Skycoin’s hardware

They say you want to be selling picks in the gold rush. It seems that manufacturing the hardware components of the Skycoin ecosystem and supporting the Skywire roll-out could be one of the best ways to do this.

It is entirely possible that dozens of multi million-dollar businesses will emerge and grow alongside the Skycoin ecosystem. Companies willing to work alongside Skycoin or manufacturing open-source hardware that natively supports Skycoin software could have a significant head-start on the whole blockchain industry.

Providing services like antenna installation and maintenance could be a particularly lucrative business in countries with high demand for low-cost internet access that would benefit from Skywire access.

Final thoughts

Skycoin has begun manufacturing with small runs of official Skyminers, but is aiming to dramatically scale production this year. This is very bullish for a number of reasons — not only does it demonstrate the fundamental strength of the coin platform, it gives greater financial stability to the Skycoin organization, providing ongoing funds for hiring developers and further hardware development.

2019 is shaping up to be a big year for the Skycoin project.

— JP

This is not investment advice, do your own research — only you are responsible for your own actions.