Blockchain technology has been around for some time now, but it has only recently become a major talking point. The one application of the technology that thrust it into the public spotlight is Bitcoin. Cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin in particular, are still what many people believe is the main—often only—application of blockchain technology. This could not be further from the truth.
Despite the highly publicized excitement surrounding Bitcoin and the many other cryptocurrencies, there are countless other practical and valuable applications of the technology. It has the potential to radically shift the way people, companies, and governments work, operate, and transact—and engineers need to embrace it.
What Is Blockchain?
Without getting too technical, blockchain is a distributed ledger that contains secure data of transactions. It functions through a decentralized database controlled by a peer-to-peer (P2P) network of computers. The numerous computers in the network have a copy of the ledger entry to prevent tampering and failure. All copies of transactions are validated and updated at the same time.
Simply put, the system records transactions, confirms both parties’ identities, and produces a secure record of the transaction. It self-audits at regular intervals to ensure accuracy and integrity.
The result is a secure and certified record of transactions or “smart contracts.” This technology can be applied to many industries and applications. It eliminates the need for a trusted third party or middleman so that secure peer-to-peer transaction can be done.
What Are the Current Applications of Blockchain?
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are still the main and most talked about blockchain applications. The financial sector is currently the largest user of the technology. There are in excess of 1900 cryptocurrencies, with new ones coming out almost daily.
The applications of this nascent technology are as diverse as the records and transactions made by individuals and businesses every day. Finance is a perfect environment for the technology, and it is perfect for money transfers, donations, remote banking, B2B transfers, and many other forms of financial transactions. In the same sector, blockchain is also used for insurance, wills, asset management, and a range of other applications.
There are many government applications for the technology, as blockchain can enhance identification, passports, and voting. This is especially relevant to developing nations and impoverished individuals.
It is also a practical and efficient way to track land, property, and asset ownership.
Medical records are another practical application for blockchain, as it can keep secure and reliable information with convenient access to this vital data.
Other applications include logistics, transport, supply chain, retail, charity, cybersecurity, music, art, and media. The list is constantly evolving as new applications are discovered and implemented.
One of the reasons blockchain holds so much potential, particularly in the engineering field, is the concept of asset tokenization. Rights to assets can be translated into tokens, and these can reside on a blockchain, very much like a cryptocurrency.
This makes tangible assets easier to “store” and access and makes them liquid. It also allows these assets to be divided or split up. Tokenization also reduces the time and paperwork required to manage these assets.
What Does It Mean for the Engineering Industry?
Blockchain technology has the potential to transform a number of industries and engineering stands to benefit as much, if not more than the financial sector. The existing and future applications are significant.
In the United States and other parts of the world, qualified and competent engineers produce a Professional Engineering (PE) Protocol (i.e., a seal or stamp) to give authority to infrastructure and engineering projects. This stamp verifies dates and specifications of physical structures as a public account. Value is based on these PE stamps and is used by individuals, corporations, government, banks, and insurance companies.
These engineer stamps and the data they involve can be securely stored on a blockchain with great accuracy, security, and convenience. The same principles used to create the massive cryptocurrency market can just as easily and effectively applied to the field of engineering.
The Integrated Engineering Blockchain Consortium
One of the firebrands of this technology is Daniel Robles. He is the founder of the Integrated Engineering Blockchain Consortium (IEBC), and his efforts follow a whitepaper he produced regarding the “implications and opportunities of blockchain for professional engineers.” The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) published his work, and it has been widely acclaimed.
The goal of the IBEC is to integrate InsurTech, Fintech, and EngTech by assisting the formation of new ventures. They concentrate on sustainable food, water and energy, smart cities, construction, transportation, and public infrastructure.
They have launched a public blockchain, CoEngineers.io, which is a “blockchain designed by engineers for engineers.” It will serve as a register of engineering information including PE stamps and other verified data.
Such a system has the potential to radically transform the way engineers charge and earn. Using this technology, engineers could charge on a per cent of contract basis. It is important that engineers overcome their fear of the unknown and embrace this new technology to elevate and improve the industry.
Bidpool has created a blockchain environment for Adjudicated Smart Contracts or ASCs for the engineering industry. It allows for faster and more efficient bidding through these ASCs. The benefits are many and include greater transparency, the rewarding of integrity, improved quality, and, importantly, lower procurements costs.
Moving beyond Bitcoin, it is evident that there are many important benefits to the use of blockchain technology in the field of engineering. It has an enormous potential to benefit the industry.
The key to embracing the technology—in order to harness its potential—is knowledge. Engineers need to have a good working understating of the underlying technology, potential applications—and the many benefits. This will allow them to see and seize the many opportunities blockchain presents.