DTR and Academics Tackle Faster, Scalable Cryptocurrency

A group of professors from universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley are at work on the Unit-e, a “globally scalable” cryptocurrency that can achieve blazing speeds and retain Bitcoin’s vaunted decentralization. Unit-e will be the first project of the non-profit Distributed Technologies Research (DTR), an academic-formed foundation supported by hedge fund Pantera Capital Management. They hope to design a coin that will process transactions faster than Visa.

Bloomberg reports that, although Bitcoin “has built a following among developers, anarchists and speculators, mainstream adoption remains elusive,” in part, said DTR, because “inbuilt restrictions have constrained its performance and scalability and, as a result, reduced its usefulness as an everyday unit of payment.”

“The mainstream public is aware that these networks don’t scale,’’ said Pantera Capital co-chief investment officer Joey Krug, who is also a DTR council member. “We are on the cusp of something where if this doesn’t scale relatively soon, it may be relegated to ideas that were nice but didn’t work in practice: more like 3D printing than the Internet.’’

Unit-e is slated to launch in the second half of 2019, with the target of processing “as many as 10,000 transactions per second.” That compares with Bitcoin’s current average of 3.3 to 7 transactions per second, and Ethereum’s 10 to 30 transactions per second. Visa, on average, processes about 1,700 transactions per second. To achieve this speed, “DTR deconstructed the blockchain technology that supports most cryptocurrencies and sought to improve almost every element of it,” according to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign electrical/computer engineering professor Pramod Viswanath, who is a researcher on the project.

The group first “sought to understand the blockchain’s performance limits so as to design technologies that operate as close to these limits as possible,” he added. They also found “new ways of sharding — a process whereby each node maintains only part of the blockchain, thus increasing speed — and new payment channel networks, to reach their targeted transaction speed.”

Other efforts to increase the speed of cryptocurrency are the Lightning Network and Segregated Witness (SegWit). Virtual currencies pioneer David Chaum is also working on a new, speedier platform. As to Unit-e’s chances of success, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign electrical/computer assistant professor Andrew Miller, who is head of Unit-e’s independent technical steering committee, noted there’s a risk that it will fail to gain traction. Future work of the Swiss-based DTR will include smart contracts, said Viswanath.

For more information on Unit-e, visit the DTR site or the press release.