Proof of Mobility Service-Refinement to Multicoin’s Proof of Physical Work Thesis
As a voracious consumer of quality blockchain podcasts I regularly seek out the podcast interviews (and blog posts) of my favorite thinkers in the space. Tushar Jain from Multicoin is one of them. My CTO, Josep Sanjuas, and I also had the pleasure to meet with him a few months ago.
In a very recent Epicenter podcast, Tushar and his partner Kyle Samani explore a range of topics pertaining to their overall investment thesis and clarify where they have conviction. Tushar made some strong points about how defi protocols need to move away from extractive revenue models and towards creating value by managing risk. This was explored more deeply in this blog post from Multicoin.
But what really struck me was Tushar’s discussion regarding a new thesis at Multicoin around what he calls “Proof of Physical Work”. In summary, in his own words in this blogpost, Tushar states that this thesis refers to procools that:
Incentivize people to do verifiable work that builds real-world infrastructure. Relative to traditional forms of capital formation for building physical infrastructure, these permissionless and credibly-neutral protocols:
1. Can build infrastructure faster — in many cases 10–100x faster
2. Are more attuned to hyper-local market needs
3. Can be far more cost effective
In both the podcast and the blogpost, the references two projects we have been tracking in other areas: Helium Network and Hivemapper.
Helium is one of the best examples in crypto in my opinion of a decentralized protocol that is transforming the world IRL (in real life). Basically, any person anywhere in the world (although currently the network is strongest in North America and Europe) can acquire a hotspot for a few hundred dollars (when the hardware is available) and setup a hotspot from their house, apartment building or elsewhere, and begin to mine Helium tokens by contributing to the growth of this network which initially focused on supporting internet of things (IoT) network access. At the time of this writing there are nearly 800,000 Helium hotspots connected to the network around the world.
Meanwhile, we recently learned about Hivemapper as they operate in an adjacent space to Iomob. Hivemapper provides token incentives for car drivers to acquire a hardware device to connect to their car in the goal with the goal of creating a decentralized mapping tool for developers and apps who rely on mapping data for a range of use cases.
Iomob, like Helium and Hivemapper can quite easily be classified as a Proof of Physical Work project acccording to Tushar’s definition. But as I rode my mountain bike while listening to the podcast, I was struck by some underlying and fundamental differences between creating a global, decentralized mobility network versus a hotspot or mapping network. Even moreso when Tushar posited that an example of how this thesis could be applied in other sectors is in the creation of a fully decentralized EV charging network.
Proposed Refinement to the Proof of Physical Work Thesis
Ground transportation and mobility are massive industries ripe for distruption with decentralized technologies, just like IoT networks and mapping tools are. But, in my opinion, the best way to solve the coordination problem in mobility is not exclusively through a decentralized P2P network. Here’s why with a focus on the EV charging network problem.
I believe that the first principle of an EV charging network is that it must be ubiquitous enough to eliminate range anxiety with reasonable charging costs and presumably fast enough charging to not be a point of friction for buying and owning (or renting or sharing) TVs?
If we accept this as the ultimate goal of an EV charging network, how might we refine the Proof of Physical Work thesis to adapt to the realities of mobility and in this case EV charging?
- Cost of Hardware
In both Helium and Hivemapper, the “worker” who is helping to build a decentralized network must acquire a hardware device. In the case of Helium this is a hotspot which can cost somewhere between $500 and $1000. Similarly, the Hivemapper dashcam currently costs around $500 as well.
EV charging stations are way more complex. They need the right power supply, they need enough dedicated physical space to allow for at least one vehicle to be charged at a time, and they require the hardware to be installed in place accessible to the public. Costs for installing high speed EV charging stations in a public area can run $100k or more.
This makes offering a fully decentralized P2P EV chargers prohibitive for the masses to engage with leveraging token incentives alone.
2. Fragmentation vs. Concentration
Helium is challenging telecom industry incumbents who often impose nearly monopolistic or oligopolistic control over their enterprise and consumer clients. These are often legacy companies that are frequently inflexible in their business and pricing models and often have no incentive to support coverage in low density areas. Hivemapper is attacking the mapping industry incumbents who similarly tend to have an oligopolistic hold over the industry. This was most evidenced recently when Google decided to dramatically increase the costs for using Google mapping data causing small and medium-sized businesses to rush for any open source alternatives that existed.
Meanwhile, in the EV charging industry, as is the case in mobility more broadly, it is not so black and white. While it is not cheap to deploy EV charging stations, there are many different actors around the globe involved in doing this including but not limited to: Public actors in the goal to accelerate the shift to low-carbon EV use and to grow economies around clean tech, private actors like energy companies, gas retailers, private EV charging startups, OEMs and a range of others, even Starbucks! And of course, a growing number of private citizens have bought EVs for private use (similarly corporates and government offices) and have installed EV charging stations which could potentially be made available to others.
The Fragmentation of EV charging station owners including public sector, private companies and individual citizens leads to a different dynamic and suggest what is needed is a mechanism and token economic incentive to enable current and future EV charging station owners to contribute to a decentralized EV charging network.
3. Willingness and Capability to Coordinate
Telecom operators have demonstrated minimal desire to collaborate with other ecosystem actors in the provision of telecom services. They want to own the customer through bundles of services. Mapping companies similarly have no incentive or desire to collaborate with other mapping companies.
EV charging networks are fundamentally different though. It is costly prohibitive to launch a global interoperable network of EV charging stations. Yet, relying on token incentives to encourage a peer network of high speed EV charging networks is insufficient to achieve the first principle of ubiquitous access to affordable and fast charging to eliminate range anxiety. Furthermore, EV charging networks (like other mobility service providers) are frequently digitally native and have increasingly embraced APIs to expand access and optimize their networks, making it easier for them to become part of a network that is larger than themselves.
It is my opinion, that the path to solving coordination problems with EV charging networks is through a decentralized protocol that facilitates and incentivizes cooperation and competition from public EV charging networks, private networks from and individual stations in publicly accessible locations.
Towards Proof of Mobility Service
Iomob has been building an Internet of Mobility network since 2018 based on the principle that the fundamental challenge in mobility is to eliminate information assymetry and to incentivize cooperation and competition amongst the growing fragmented set of public transit and rail services, B2C shared fleet operators and P2P networks for everything from scooters to ridehailing to bus on demand to carsharing and yes to parking and EV charging as well.
If we truly want to democratise networks, and improve quality of life and reduce our carbon emissions, the path must be through a decentralized, interoperable internet of mobility network that allows every legal actor to cooperate and to compete to offer a more seamless, multimodal intercity and intracity experience for locals and visitors. This includes blending public transit, B2C mobility services and P2P networks in a coordinated, tokenised, decentralized intenret of mobility supported by Proof of Mobility Service.
About the Author
Boyd Cohen is the CEO and Co-founder of Iomob, a decentralized internet of mobility network. Since obtaining his Ph.D. in strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado in 2001, he spent the past two decades focused on accelerating the path to a low-carbon sustainable economy. This included publishing 3 books, multiple peer reviewed articles, frequently contributing to Fast Company and starting a handful of ventures in the smart cities and sustainability arena.
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