BUIDLing a secure & low budget Hardware Wallet

In April of 2019 I’ve joined the world’s largest Blockchain and AI hackathon to build a handheld device for doing payments using blockchain technology. It became an epic event of enourmous proportions and possiblities. Unimaginable for those not joining.

For the past two years I attended two Dutch Blockchain hackathons and the hackathon of the European Union as a specialist. At all three events I was coaching the competing teams and had part in the judging process. This year I attended to the Odyssey Blockchain and AI Hackathon in Groningen once more, but this year I came with a team to create a solution for the Inclusive Banking challenge.

Prior to this participation I could not image how different the role as a participant is from just being supportive. Being of help to the teams as a ‘jedi‘ or judge is exciting. Being part of the challenge as a participant is exhilarating.

The challenge

The inclusive banking track is an initiative from Radboud University and the NGO Our Common Future. They asked for a mobile app that allows individuals to exchange value without the intervention of traditional money or cryptocurrency such as euro’s or bitcoins.

The vision

Prior to joining the track a colleague and I created an idea to work on a mobile wallet for our client; LeasePlan.  The idea was to create a cheap, easy to use and extremely secure handheld device for day-to-day exchange of assets and ownership.

The device would be specifically not intended for large amounts of storage, such a the well known Tresor or Ledger wallets, but for low volume and frequent transfers.
We decided not to build another app because many people don’t use them, they need expensive smartphones and they are not very safe. We decided to create a hardware wallet that integrates with existing successful social platforms and apps in local and online communities.

Sumup: A great example of a comparable device for the old economy

The kicker is that the proposed device can become available for less than $4 USD. With this pricepoint the device could become extremely inclusive for poor, technology less savvy people such as elder and disabled people. By letting go of all entry barriers to join the age of blockchain, people can become part of the decentralised revolution without friction.

The concept

As a concept we proposed a extremely easy to use, very affordable and fully secure hardware wallet that only requires the availability of a GSM network to function.

Working out the concept

We even managed to establish a collaboration with KPN Telecom prior to the hackathon and started conversations with wallet manufacturer Secrid about production possibilities.

The team

As I’m currently contracted with LeasePlan Digital, the innovation part of the carlease company, getting the right team together went very well. Within LeasePlan it is strikingly easy to create a fantastic team as there’s a large pool of ambitious experts working there. When we decided to build the hardware device we searched the available hackathon tracks on the subject ‘Mobility’. The only track that came up in regards to mobility solutions was the inclusive banking track, so we signed up there and started figuring out if it could be done in the first place.

Once set-up we were accepted to the track rather quickly. At the venue we were appointed a dark table with not much more than a small light and a socket. This would become our hideout, our safe haven and our warzone for the next 48 hours.

An amazing team under a horrible clock

With this team we were fully armed to start the challenge and after the opening show ended we started working.

The hackathon

//the magic starts here

Hardware behaves weird when compared to software

//the magic ends here

The canvas

All 100 hackathon projects revolved around an ‘impact canvas’. A deviation from the better known ‘business model canvas’. It describes the problem and the – to be built – solution, the expected impact and details about the developed product and the planned steps ahead.

The concept on canvas

Our handheld wallet ends the exclusive models of today people depend on, such as expensive mobile phones, clumsy apps, insecure solutions and bad connectivity. In order to get the circular economy going alternatives to common value exchange need to become available to the masses. Our proposed wallet, named HARMONY, proves it can be done as it the most secure design out there, it can be produced under $4, it only requires a GSM network to function and its interface is designed for the non-tech-savvy person.

The design

Our User eXperience designer did a marvellous task in quickly analysing the requirements and creating some 3D images and a working interface.

3D design of the handheld device

The prototype

During the 48 hour hackathon our team was able to create a working secure device, able to store and receive digital assets. On-device we managed to generate private keys and use them to securely sign any SHA3 (raw) transaction in order to send it across the world. This means the device can sign and send transactions for all the large blockchain networks such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and many others. As many of the teams at the hackathon were building peer-to-peer solutions we got a lot of support from enthusiastic fellow BUIDLers, envisioning their solution in the hands of ordinary people.

Thanks to our technical experts we even received a 10 out of 10 for the code quality and a positive result on a grilling session with some code-neatness-fetishists.

The HARMONY prototype. A easy to use, affordable and extremely secure payment device.

As we build two of these devices the final test was if we could transact from one to the other before the end of the hackathon. After quite some failures the last peer-to-peer test was finally successful only minutes before time ran out! What a rush of excitement!

The jury

When the large clock near our hideout on the the wall reached zero, short after, the time was nigh. As the first team to be judged we didn’t get time to get nervous and were able to pitch everything we wanted to get across.

Convincing judges apps are soooo 2018

After way too many anxious minutes the verdict came upon us swiftly. We came in second to team SocialTec which made a exchange system of goods and services via a mobile app.

After a difficult decision by the judges, we were rated 2nd with a small difference because we didn’t exclude (crypto)currency from the model and were not able to mass-produce the device within the preferred timelines, after the hackathon. Team SocialTec won with a very compelling solution that fits perfectly with all the requirements, so we’re proud of becoming 2nd with our odd-one-out hardware solution.

The possibilities

Joining and finishing the hackathon as a team sure feels like winning. As a professional team we were constantly focusing on opportunities and were able to set up many appointments with fellow multinationals, governmental organisations, NGO’s, experts from many different fields and the Odyssey organisation itself.

LeasePlan’s management getting the hang of the blockchain ecosystem and hackathons

The future

With 2nd place and a working prototype of HARMONY ‘in the pocket’, our team went back to base in Amsterdam with a great sense of accomplishment.

Joining the hackathon with a competing team is a hard to describe experience. The amount of experience one can obtain – packed within 48 hours – is incredible. The great amount of credible blockchain innovations and solutions the hackathon produced convinced us that there’s a lot of possibilities for organisations to save money or up their game more fundamentally with this new technology.  The time seems right to seriously start engaging with blockchain in the mobility space and a mobility track might just be the thing needed to solve challenges in the automotive and mobility space using blockchain and AI.

Learn more about HARMONY here. It’s open source!