In the Weekly Update from August 24, we included a piece on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to researchers developing a blockchain application that would create a living – and digital – catalog of the NSF’s work.

This grant kicks off on September 1, 2018, and while it is an innovative way to track vast swaths of data in an immutable format, it is nowhere near the first blockchain initiative supported by the NSF.

Since 2015, the NSF has awarded grants to 22 individual projects in an amount totaling nearly $6 million. The majority of the awards have been for projects revolving around cybersecurity. But there have been a few innovative projects funded that look to employ out-of-the-box thinking to address issues impacting the agency. Here is a look at a couple of the more unique projects funded:

Private Digital Currencies and Closed Payment Communities: Law, Regulation and Financial Exclusion After Bitcoin

Amount: $319,705
Research Team: University of California – Irvine
Start Date: July 1, 2015

The NSF was on the leading edge in wanting to take a closer look at how bitcoin could impact payment systems. This project is looking to answer a series of questions, including:

  • Do new digital currencies create new social and economic exclusions?
  • What do these innovations say about changing understandings of money and law?
  • What happens when new corporate entrants into payment imagine they are innovating in money, not just its transmission, and seek to “disrupt” not just payment, but professions like notaries and escrow agents?
  • How do regulators respond to concomitant challenges to the public interest in payment and in law itself?

The research team at UC-Irvine is primarily conducting interviews with lawyers, regulators, and payments industry professionals. In addition, the team is conducting participant-observation at industry conferences, and code walkthroughs during which researchers follow programmers as they build new functionality into the blockchain.

This project is set to wrap up in 2019 and the following papers stemming from the research has been published:

Bill Maurer. “Re-risking in Realtime: On Possible Futures for Finance after the Blockchain,” Behemoth: A Journal on Civilization, v.9, 2016, p. 10.6094/b.

Taylor C. Nelms, Bill Maurer, Lana Swartz, Scott Mainwaring. “The Economy of ?Just Us?: A Dispatch from the Cambrian Explosion in Payments,” Theory, Culture and Society, v.35, 2018. doi:10.1177/0263276417746466.

I-Corps: Autonomous Unmanned Vehicle Ecosystem Technology

Amount: $50,000
Research Team: CUNY Queensborough Community College
Start Date: July 1, 2018

While blockchain technology isn’t the primary focus of this project, it does play a vital role in the deep machine learning component.

In short, this I-Corps project is seeking to develop autonomous robotic systems to save lives across multiple disaster levels. The technology being developed will understand mission objectives (intent-driven), coordinate with others (collaborative autonomy) and be voice enabled (natural language conversational interface), allowing it to work well with both humans and machines.

The blockchain piece will enable autonomous swarm management technology on multiple robotic devices will enable multiple machine collaboration. All sensor data will be time-stamped and stored in the cloud where AI technologies will enrich the data. The enriched data is made available offline via the internet to thousands of volunteers for human review.

Early results show this technological capability exists, and that the software and hardware components combined meet a need established through the research team’s initial customer discovery. This project is set to wrap up in late winter 2019.

For a full list of blockchain-related NSF grants, please visit this link: