INT and Polkadot — Heterogeneous Multi-Chain Framework

May 31, 2018 · 9 min read

It wasn’t too long ago when I came across Polkadot, a new framework for blockchain 3.0 that aims to solve most of the issues that plagues the first two generations of blockchain. I was completely taken aback by the simplicity and elegance of the framework and the solutions it proposed.

If you have the time, I would HIGHLY recommend reading the Polkadot whitepaper for an in-depth explanation of the reasoning behind this structure. It’s fantastically done.

Polkadot was founded by Dr. Gavin Wood, the same Gavin Wood who founded Ethereum with Vitalik and wrote Solidity, Ethereum’s smart contract language and the basis of the Ethereum Virtual Machine. He started the Polkadot project in an effort to solve the core issues we see in blockchain today, namely the scalability, speaking not just for transaction volume but the resources involved in processing them, and the isolation of blockchains from other networks.

Ultimately, the above issues that are present in the blockchains we see today are caused by having single layer blockchains with one-dimensional scaling (block size and block time), with a generalized group of rules that applies globally within that network that eventually leads to an inability to innovate, adapt and perform at scale. These single chain networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum began knowing they would have to implement a new technology or second layer solution (like Lightning) in order to operate properly at scale.

In the traditional framework, transactions have to be processed one by one by each node, checking for validity, batched into a block, hashed and (in a competition to get there first) added to the blockchain. The whole process can be broken down into two parts, the verifying of transactions and the block generation. The block generation portion of this is called the State Transition mechanism, where the ‘state’ of the blockchain is just ‘who owns what’. This consensus architecture is mainly limited by the need to have wide timing margins to allow for the expected processing time for doing these operations. This applies to both PoW and PoS mechanisms.

The way Polkadot proposes the solution to this is to create a network of subchains running in parallel and to separate the validators from the state transition mechanism, leaving the subchain nodes to only make sure the transactions are valid and leaving the parent chain to take the computational load as block generator, in a two-tier DPoS architecture [Fig. 1].

Fig. 1 Polkadot consensus method

To illustrate, imagine having to run down a path collecting balls on either side of that path and every 10 feet you stop at a station, count, weigh and measure the size of those balls, then package them all up into a box before continuing to run down that path to collect more balls. You are limited in this case by the length of time it takes you to organize, characterize and package those balls. This is the current case of single chain PoW/PoS chains where the full nodes do the validating and block generation work. Whereas, in the proposed multi-chain framework, you run down that same path, collecting balls and every 10 feet you just place the box at the station and keep going, there is another person (node) there to do the packaging, this system is limited only by how fast you can collect those balls.

Current real-world blockchain networks are limited to about 30 transactions per second whereas, in Polkadot’s testing, this framework allowed a transaction throughput of around 1000 TPS on each subchain, with the ability to infinitely scale by the addition of subchains in the network.

The added beauty in this is that it also allows each one of these subchains to define their own rule sets that best suit the use case. You can successfully have a network of subchains, one with smart contracts, one with fast and free transactions, one with private transactions, one a state-less data transaction chain, all able to communicate with each other, creating a blockchain of blockchains.

It is important to note here that in this framework, the parent chain acts only as a relay and block generator for each subchain. It has no inherent application. The relay chain is simply provides the base from which a large number of validatable, dynamic data structures can be hosted side by side. In Polkadot, they call these data structures, parallel subchains or ‘parachains’, although there is no need for them to be blockchains at all. They could be a set of independent chains like Bitcoin or Ethereum, or different networks all together like the Internet or a private banking network, with the added and very important functionality of trustlessly transacting between those networks.

The simplicity of this relay chain makes it easier to maintain with less things to go wrong and easier to upgrade without the need for hardforks or concern with backwards compatibility.

What does this afford us? A network that can have an array of different blockchains, each with their own specific purpose, working in perfect concert with one another. A future-proof framework able to integrate new blockchain technology as it becomes available without over-complicated coordination or hardforks.

Polkadot is aiming to use this framework to tackle a more generalized application of linking existing blockchains, outside networks (Internet, banking networks) and being Ethereum 3.0, allowing people to not only generate their own tokens but also their own blockchains; what they call Web3. While I thought this was a fantastic application and exactly what the crypto ecosystem needs, I was curious to see what other projects were using the same revolutionary framework and therefore, we’re the next generation of blockchain.

IoT was immediately what came to mind. An ecosystem with a wide variety of possible transaction types, device types and the potential for an enormous scaling need. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario where the one size fits all approach or any current or planned version of Ethereum does not satisfy the needs of an IoT ecosystem. Imagine the network needs of a weather sensor, sending lightweight data every few seconds where fast block times needed, a smart car sending and receiving location and traffic data where larger data set communication efficiency is paramount, a smart home hub which controls everything in your house where smart contracts and artificial intelligence is needed, your smartphone selling your private data for ad revenue where strong encryption is vital and the ability to transact privately with a fungible currency all in the same network, tied together. The IoT ecosystem needs the ability to handle all scenarios and there is not one, single chain network that can fit the needs of that ecosystem.

That’s when I came across INT…

That’s when I came across INT’s whitepaper titled, “An economy driven solution to improve the device interconnection of Internet of Things”. It outlined the issues we currently see with blockchain as well as what the future needs will be in order to support the needs of a global Internet of Things ecosystem. What caught me was the down to earth understanding of the needs and hurdles without any of the overbearing hype. It is a straight forward evaluation of current state, future state needs, their proposals to solve those issues and the technical details thereof. It speaks of Polkadot as the framework, with Tendermint and HoneyBadgerBFT as the basis of their two-tier consensus mechanism, data and user privacy at the forefront with a team of industry experts leading it.

This framework allows for infinite scaling by the addition of subchains and custom functionality in those subchains that allows them to be defined for the particular application, be it private transactions, state transaction free data chain, smart contracts, etc. It easily accommodates interoperability between established networks like the Internet and enables pegging with other blockchains with a few simple transaction type inclusions. With this cross chain communication, manufactures wouldn’t have to negotiate their needs to fit an established blockchain, they could create their own subchain to fit their needs and interact with the greater network through the relay.

By splitting the consensus mechanism, you effectively have two tires of nodes, one at the subchain level verifying transactions, passing them up to the supernodes which further verify by DPoS and create the block [Fig. 2]. Their whitepaper says the coin will be two tiered like with the primary INT token like a share of the blockchain, much like Neo. They also recently mentioned they plan to use the EOS supernode structure which selects the block producer based on an election mechanism. In these DPoS schemes, in order to encourage participation in the network and in voting, users who vote get part of the node reward proportional to the amount of coins staked. This means that there will be a block reward for anyone that holds coins and votes or maintains a node. (Current node staking requirements are not known.)

Fig. 2 INT consensus architecture

The team understands the development hurdles facing the interaction of many different devices from many different manufacturers. They plan to solve this by standardizing requirements for communication and data exchange. They have heavy ties with several manufacturers and are currently developing an IoT router (with a yet to be confirmed telecom manufacturer) to be the gateway to the network.

INT recognizes the strong need for an IoT network to have robust and efficient data handling and storage. They are utilizing a decentralize storage system using distributed hash tables (DHT) much like the BitTorrent system. These are used as lookup tables for key pairs so that nodes can efficiently retrieve values associated with a given key. This can be used to maintain a list of node addresses and public keys (miner nodes, super nodes, Meta nodes), IoT devices and their associated keys as well as distributed file systems and peer to peer information sharing. This will be the keystone of the node network and IoT device information transfer. This combined with the network implementation of all of the communication protocols (TCP/IP, UDP/IP, MANET) build the framework of a network that will effortlessly integrate any device type for any application in any network condition.

(If you are interested in understanding these protocols further and what application they would have, see the linked post: here)

In order to protect the user and their data, they are implementing their own innovative Behavior Private Key (BPK) algorithm which is based on zero-knowledge proofs. This will pass the user’s intent on to the nodes and other device hardware, without identifying who sent the request. This will also protect users from behavior analysis in pseudo-anonymous systems like Bitcoin, where tracing transactions and behavior and correlating it to known, non-private information can lead to identification of the user.

INT mentioned that the system will use machine learning to model strategies and clustering behavior, to group requests to further hide users. I am not sure exactly how this will be implemented but it sounds like it could be akin to Monero’s ring signature system of having a group of users sign a transaction but only one of the group is the actual user sending the transaction. Therefore the true user’s signature is hidden and neither the node nor the receiver knows who sent the transaction.

They also talk about developing a network of DAPPs automatically running on IoT devices and the network enabled by smart contracts to automatically exchange data and transactions between humans and machines.

Reading between the hints, this is the second time that INT has hinted at modeling and learning capabilities within the network. What capabilities will this learning system have? Does this intelligent learning system, combined with your BPK create a private profile accessible by your private key?

So what do we have? A project based on Polkadot enabling endless scaling and unlimited applicability in a network that uses staking and supernodes from a Chinese project partnering with manufactures and telecom equipment companies that has tokens only traded on two exchanges with main net coming in the near future. They set out to accomplish more than WTC or VEN in a network that is better equipped than IOTA or Ethereum. If they can execute on what they have laid out, there is no reason that they won’t become the market leader, easily overtaking the market cap of VeChain ($2.5B, $10 INT) in the short term and IOTA ($7B, $28 INT) in the medium term. Sounds like an IoT sleeping giant.

For the curious, Polkadot ICO prices put them at a market cap of $350M, close to that of Waltonchain and would yield an INT price of $1.40.

If you are interested to see how INT compares with other IoT projects, take a look at the project comparison post here.

INT Chain