Edinburgh University launches blockchain research lab

Research laboratories focusing on blockchain technology are being opened at the University of Edinburgh and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, sponsored by one of the cofounders of cryptocurrency Ethereum.

Business Insider reports that IOHK, a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency research and development company, is investing up to $1m in the two facilities.

First developed to underpin digital currency bitcoin, the distributed ledger technology is a form of shared database that allows institutions to interact directly with each other rather than through middlemen.

“Early on when we started the company [IOHK], originally we were just going to be an engineering consultancy firm — kind of like a boring, standard software shop,” said Charles Hoskinson, a co-founder Ethereum, a digital currency established in 2013. “But we realised that our technology was very young and the science of the technology wasn’t settled. As a consequence, we felt like we would be building on quicksand unless we brought in some expertise early on.”

The two labs will focus on topics such as cryptography, smart contracts, and how to upgrade cryptocurrency systems. The Edinburgh lab will be led by Professor Aggelos Kiayias, Chair in Cyber Security and Privacy at the University of Edinburgh and Chief Scientist at IOHK.

Professor Kiayias said in a statement: “Distributed ledgers is an upcoming disruptive technology that can scale information services to a global level. The academic and industry connection forged by this collaboration puts the Blockchain Technology Lab at Edinburgh at the forefront of innovation in blockchain systems.”

All the research from the lab will be open source, meaning anyone can have access to it and patents will not be awarded. IOHK has committed to funding the Edinburgh and Tokyo facilities for two years but Hoskinson hopes to expand the project to more universities around the world.

IOHK, set up in 2015 by Hoskinson and Jeremy Wood, builds cryptocurrencies and blockchains for academic institutions, government entities, and corporations.

The company is privately funded and profitable, Hoskinson told Business Insider: “We get contracts to build cryptocurrencies and we take fiat currency — dollars, yen, whatever — and also take ownership of some of the cryptocurrencies we build. It’s a surprisingly good business model.”