Ethereum, and blockchain technology in general, aren’t exactly the most tangible tech. While not having a centralized point of origin makes data less susceptible to a hacker attack or a server crash, it doesn’t mean that Ethereum can’t easily affect the physical world.
Ethereum is already being used by Genesis of Things, a “smart manufacturing” project, to bring blockchain to 3D printing. Genesis of Things launched only a few weeks before Ethereum’s DevCon2 in Shanghai. The company is currently in stealth, so more details about their potential uses, and how they will operate, will be released in due time. To show how Ethereum is already able to interact with the world, the project 3D printed a set of titanium cufflinks. These weren’t just ordinary cufflinks, though, they were inscribed with a custom binary serial number on the side.
By engraving each set of cufflinks with a specific code, the individual item is then linked to its manufacturing process and exact design, which are anchored in the blockchain. The cufflinks aren’t currently a commercial product, but are a proof of concept. They’re a limited edition showcasing the potential of the technology.
This type of product is part of the Internet of Things (IoT), the idea that in the near future, everyday objects will have network connectivity. While these particular cufflinks aren’t Bluetooth enabled or RFID tagged, their serial number serves as a unique identifier. This means counterfeit cufflinks can easily be weeded out… if something like a black market for cufflinks ever becomes a problem. Again, these are simply a proof of concept.
Combining 3D printing, blockchain and the IoT is a step toward the future, and a reimagined manufacturing process. Mixing Ethereum and 3D printing would enable the creation of a decentralized, transparent database of rights. This would also allow whoever owns rights to a design to receive automatic royalty payments via smart contracts.
Carsten Stöcker, who worked on the 3D printed cufflinks, spoke about Genesis of Things and how Ethereum can be used in the entire 3D printing supply chain.
Carsten Stöcker told IBTimes:
Intellectual Property scales globally and stays protected, each printed product has its own ID and digital product memory. Supply chain processes including trade finance are automated. Ethereum is going mainstream and connecting with the physical world. We wanted to demonstrate that with the cufflink. People can feel and touch it.
When you touch the cufflink it feels a bit rough at the surface. That's a nice analogy to working with a brand new technology. And the experience is improving very fast now. Every product has a story: where it came from; how it was made; how we use it. Until now, the story has been hidden from our eyes.
Due to using Ethereum and the nature of blockchain, it’d be possible to associate smart contracts and price agreements with a 3D printable design. That means both the customer and the vendor know exactly what they’re getting into when making a transaction.
Imagine being able to 3D print a replacement part for something you own, and knowing with absolute certainty that the part will be the exact one you need, made to the exact same specifications as the one you’re replacing. Even if the thing you own is one of a kind, if Genesis of Things made it, they’ll be able to easily reprint the piece you need because everything is stored in the blockchain.
That’s just one example for how this technology could be applied. The future is rapidly approaching, and 3D printing paired with Ethereum blockchain technology is the way of the future.