Astroblocks is a bitcoin-related project from College of San Mateo professor Dr. Jeff Flowers and ex-astronomer Yvonne Tang that came out of their experience at Blockchain University. Flowers and Tang recently presented their project at a Blockchain University demo night for graduates of the program. According to Tang, the main problem that the duo from Siliconian wanted to solve with their project was: “How does one prove that they discovered a certain object at a certain time?” The end-result was Astroblocks, which is a proof-of-existence platform for specific use cases.

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How it works

There are two main steps in the Astroblocks system. First, the observer logs onto a web platform to describe what they found. The data entered by the observer is then hashed and placed into a provably unspendable output on the bitcoin blockchain via OP_RETURN. That hash plays two different roles: to prove the existence of the data and act as an internal reference number of sorts for the database of observations. The data is also sent to a multi-signature address controlled by experts in a field related to the discovery. The full name of the observer is hashed and obscured to remove the possibility of any personal bias getting in the way during the expert review process.

Once the information is received in the multi-signature address, the experts can verify all of the data and confirm the existence of this new discovery. The experts use the private keys attached the multi-signature address as a way to vote on the legitimacy of the observation. Once consensus has been reached, the result of the review process is published on the blockchain for all to see. Unlike the observers, the experts names are public, so they can be held responsible for their judgements.

General use cases for Astroblocks

Although Tang pointed to the discovery of new asteroids or comets by amateur astronomers as a possible use case for this application, there are also other situations where it could make sense to use Astroblocks. One other example pointed out by Flowers involved an entrepreneur who wanted to ask a panel of experts whether or not a new invention or idea would be worth pursuing as a business. The Astroblocks platform would allow the entrepreneur to vet their new idea at a much lower cost than currently available options. Another use case mentioned by Flowers and Tang in their presentation had to do with the publication of various peer reviewed works.

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Other projects in the proof-of-existence space

Astroblocks is essentially a proof-of-existence platform, which is a concept that has been explored by a few other projects in the bitcoin space. Bitproof is a web application that allows users to prove the existence and ownership of a specific file via Google Drive or Dropbox, while is perfect for certifying a document via the blockchain. Although another bitcoin company, Blocksign, states that “electronic signatures are valid and legally binding in a majority of countries” on their website, it seems unclear if this same logic will apply to blockchain-based claims to intellectual property.

Featured image via BitPay.

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