By Pete Harris, Executive Director, Austin Blockchain Collective
As I write this blog, deaths globally due to COVID-19 are estimated at nearly one million. Health experts here in the US are suggesting that a vaccine should be available to everyone by the third quarter of next year. Meanwhile, some pharmaceutical company executives reckon that vaccines might take another 3 years to be distributed globally. How many deaths will this pandemic account for before it is snuffed out? It’s a big, terrifying number.
That’s the direct human life cost. The global business collapse caused by the pandemic will impact many — probably most of us— over the next few years. A surge in unemployment, poverty, hunger, mental and physical illness are very likely. Civil unrest, regime change and even geopolitical land grabs are possible. The recovery is not going to be a V curve — methinks the affects of COVID-19 will be felt across the globe for a decade or longer.
For sure there will be gloom and doom to contend with. But there is also the promise of overcoming the pandemic and its massive fallout. Innovation in bioscience, healthcare, supply chains and technology is already playing a critical role in the comeback — and at a bold and rapid pace not witnessed since the Apollo space program.
Marketing zealousness aside, there are early but strong indications that blockchain is set to play a role in numerous initiatives and products being rolled out to fight COVID-19 on several fronts. Those indicators are a driver in a research initiative that the Austin Blockchain Collective recently commenced.
The Blockchain for COVID-19 Responses research will drill down on how blockchain is being used by a number of projects and product initiatives — we’re tracking around 50 right now across perhaps a dozen application focuses— with a particular focus on why blockchain technology is being adopted and what particular aspects and functionality of the technology is deemed as an imperative for particular applications. The initiative will also keep track of blockchain-related developments for COVID-19 and provide a community for interested parties to virtually meet and share insights. To find out more about the research initiative and how to be a part of it, email email@example.com.
As a pointer to some early momentum that the research initiative is seeing, here are some notable developments:
In addition to applications that have a specific COVID-19 or pandemic focus, such as contact tracing, data dashboards and PPE sourcing, we expect our research to also cover how blockchain is being used for certain generic uses that will definitely have roles to play in defeating COVID-19.
One that is set to have a very high profile in coming months is Cold Chain — temperature-controlled supply chains — that are already used to deliver pharmaceuticals from manufacturers, via distributors to point of care facilities.
Early word is that at least the initial vaccines currently undergoing trials will need to be delivered via Cold Chains. The blockchain angle is that by integrating temperature sensors with blockchain, so it is possible to create a tamper-proof audit trail to ensure that temperature compliance has been met along the entire chain. That’s going to be important for ensuring patient safety as well as the commercial aspects of operating logistics networks. Quite a few companies are hand waving about their blockchain/cold chain offerings, from IT majors like Oracle, to specialists, such as Chronicled, which is already a pharma supply chain player.
Also piquing my interest among generic applications is Helium, a long-range wifi network meant to support IoT devices. Helium’s US network of around 8,500 hotspots is not actually owned by the company. It is fully decentralized with individual hotspot operators (Full disclosure: I am one and my network name is “Scrawny Maroon Swallow”) owning their devices. In return for participating in the network, hotspot operators are rewarded in cryptocurrency.
And the COVID-19 connection? To date, two companies have developed Helium-based applications focused on the pandemic. One is CareBand, with a contact tracing application, while the other is Smart Mimic, which is focusing on enforcing social distancing.
There’s clearly lots of innovation to cover in our research. and we don’t want to miss anything. If you’re working on a COVID-19 or related blockchain application, please be in touch. Stay safe!
About the Author
Pete Harris is Principal of Lighthouse Partners. He has 40+ years of business and technology experience, focusing in recent years on business applications of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.