Burstcoin developer Daniel Jones announced that he managed to complete a blockchain transaction without access to electricity or the internet. The claim first came through his Twitter account, @nixops, on September 15, 2018, where he wrote, “It is with great honor I present to you the first $burst radio transaction. Solar powered, mesh net, and on chain.”
Proof of Life
The transaction was part of an experiment that Jones dubbed “Proof of Life.” According to him, the infrastructure can be used during a national emergency or environmental disaster to confirm survival. In a Reddit post, he painted a scenario where someone in a disaster-struck area broadcasted a transaction from their known wallet to signal being alive. He explained:
“This gives us some levels of certainty, wallet seed, target wallet known, and amount + fee or message content.”
In spite of its rather suggestive name, amateur or shortwave radio is not unregulated and free to use by anyone, even if they are in possession of the appropriate equipment. Since radio frequencies can be used for a variety of purposes and is a limited resource, most governments limit its use to varying extents. In most developed countries, including the United States, this involves the radio operator obtaining a HAM Radio license and a basic understanding of radio etiquette. This is to prevent frequencies from clogging up due to commercial use.
In the United States, amateur radio operators are expected to comply with the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Therefore, while the transaction undoubtedly represents a successful proof of concept, widespread use of amateur radio for this purpose would be considered illegal in most parts of the world.
This isolated experiment sparked controversy over on Reddit’s ham radio enthusiast community. When an individual posted details of the Burstcoin transaction in the /r/amateurradio subreddit, users were quick to point out that the transmission may have been illegal as concerns revolved around whether or not the radio operator was licensed. However, a small group of users argued that FCC regulations prohibit transmissions involving encrypted messages.
User /u/FireWaterAirDirt argued that since the names of people involved in the transaction were not transparent, the transmission may have been illegal. They specifically cited §97.311 (SS emission types) of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, which reads, “SS emission transmissions must not be used for the purpose of obscuring the meaning of any communication.”
Given the widespread discussion on the legality of his experiment, Daniel Jones addressed some of the concerns in his comment on the amateur radio subreddit. He started off by explaining that the project was part of a challenge submission, particularly the CallForCode challenge. He explained that the experiment was targeted solely towards post-disaster communication.
Furthermore, dispelling rumors that the project was carried out illegally, Jones confirmed that a licensed operator relaid the transmission and that the experiment itself was also well within the boundaries of legality. He continued:
“Next, keep in mind that this transaction had zero to with business but instead was a multi-factor verification of Proof of Life. This was a simple transaction of a value from a wallet (person a) to another person (wallet b) with an amount and fee that was pre-selected as their ‘agreement”’ of it is them. In this case myself and my girlfriend.”
Jones emphasized that similar experiments have already been done in the past with various tools. He decided to use a blockchain for this purpose because of its immutable nature and censorship-resistance, both properties that guaranteed the integrity of the underlying data.
In a post published on Medium shortly after his comment on Reddit, Daniel explained that his experiment could be replicated quite easily to broadcast a person’s well-being. While the items required to broadcast such a transmission are not always immediately available, they can be easily procured from electronic stores and the like. Using an app for a similar purpose may or may not be plausible, he continued, as valid proof of life is only guaranteed via a blockchain-based solution.
Nevertheless, the experiment sets an interesting precedent for the future of blockchain technology and highlights how it can be used to guarantee decentralization. Daniel Jones expressed a similar sentiment, “Yes, renewable energy is needed. Burst can mine and operate on far less power than bitcoin, and is not a proof of stake coin, which proof of stake is a business. Proof of capacity will be the way for low power and infrastructure. Lower the bar that could be even done with nothing but the sun or a crank charger.”
Work on Proof of Life is expected to continue in the near future too. “We have other experiments coming,” Jones said.
“Keep in mind this was to show that it could be done. I would also like to point out that the hard drive could be any device, that drive has a full operating system on it and shipped that way by WD. We just added value and features to it, but tools are important, if we use them right.”