The blockchain is a topic that is both widely applicable and rooted in the foundations of computer science. Both the core technology of the blockchain and the technology for creating added value for parties who want to apply it, pose fundamental scientific, engineering, and societal questions:
- The original blockchain has complex and inefficient mechanisms for core components such as validating transactions among multiple parties and guaranteeing their immutability. These mechanisms severely hinder the scalability of the system and the timely confirmation of transactions.
- The original blockchain has been designed for the limited use of a single application, which is implementing a decentralized cryptocurrency. Currently, many more ambitious types of applications of the blockchain are being considered, which requires adapting its current and incorporating new mechanisms.
- Finding theoretical solutions to the specific shortcomings of the blockchain is not enough. Engineering software solutions and experimenting with these solutions is of paramount importance in order to advance the technology. Blockchain technology may be truly transformational for business and society. It may go the path of technologies such as GPS, GSM, and WIFI that have changed entire industries and society. But it has taken decades of fundamental research, development, and deployment to take them form their initial idea to maturity.
- Many potential application areas of the blockchain raise societal questions: how to guarantee privacy with multi-party sharing of personal data?, to what extent are smart contracts legally binding?, what are the non-technical obstructions in business and society for the adoption of the technology?
In order to strengthen the scientific basis, DBT will execute three research tracks:
- The goal of the research track core blockchain technology and engineering is for DBT to play a prominent role in systems-oriented blockchain research. It will design and deploy prototypes in realistic settings that incorporate solutions to problems in the blockchain such as scalability. Such a systems-oriented research approach is essential to make progress in the uptake of the technology. For achieving industry-grade blockchain solutions, BDT will foster an open ecosystem as a model for technology development as opposed to a closed industry-based model.
- The goal of the research track blockchain applications is to show the viability of the solutions proposed in the track on core technology in diverse potential application areas. DBT will target applications that truly transcend the initial applications of the blockchain such as bitcoin and its straightforward extensions to other financial areas. DBT will connect to owners of such applications both within TU Delft, such as intelligent electrical power grids and trust in aid management, and from outside TU Delft the financial and logistics sectors.
- The goal of the research track societal aspects of the blockchain is to explore the non-technical issues of blockchain-based applications. With the expertise at TU Delft in ethics and policy analysis, DBT will contribute to the assessment of this information technology in order to help in its adoption in business and society and in its acceptance by the general public.