There’s nothing that’s not a topic at the Center for Digital Technology and Management (CDTM). We have courses where students program smart drones, others where they learn to master the art of meditation and more where they build “food computers” that autonomously grow plants using robotic systems.
But one topic hasn’t been so much on the radar yet: Blockchain Technology. More precisely, the field of “Smart Contracts”. So this semester two Centerlings decided to change that by offering the Elective “Hello World of Smart Contracts”.
What are Electives at the CDTM, again?
The CDTM offers an interdisciplinary add-on study program in Munich covering trend research, product development, and strategic problems over three courses – for the innovators of tomorrow. Electives complement those core courses by offering students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge in an area of their choice. Usually, these electives are designed, prepared and conducted by the CAs (Center Assistants).
“Hello World of Smart Contracts Elective” in a Nutshell: Tech and Conceptual Foundations + Two-Day Hackathon = Smart Contract Applications
26 motivated centerlings from all disciplines and with different prior knowledge took part in the course. The participants included computer scientists, physicists, economics students, electrical engineers, logic and philosophy students, and even a medical student. In interactive input sessions, participants learned the fundamental concepts of the Ethereum Blockchain, Decentralized Apps (dApps) and Smart Contracts. Afterwards the students got to know the programming language Solidity in a coding deepdive, which allows to write Smart Contracts on the Ethereum Blockchain. The final highlight was a two-day hackathon in which the participants in teams of five had to design, code and pitch a meaningful, smart-contact-based solution for an everyday problem. The entire course was supported by experienced lecturers and coaches from Industry, academia and entrepreneurship.
What are Smart Contracts?
Smart Contracts are one of the most powerful applications of Blockchain technology. Once designed, coded and implemented on the Blockchain, they are automatically executed whenever predefined trigger-events occur. Through clever design and strict rule-based execution of these contracts, it is possible to induce actors to act justly, without middlemen like banks, governments or notaries. In simple cases, money can be transferred or elections carried out. In the future, betting platforms, trading exchanges, companies and states could be coordinated in this way.
Week 1: Learning the Conceptual Fundamentals of Blockchain: Theory and Ethereum
The aim of the first week was to bring the participants up to the same level of knowledge. Three fantastic lecturers and experts in the field were invited, each conducting a Blockchain “infosion” – basically a high-intensity, interactive deep-dive info-session.
First, Prof. Isabell Welpe, Co-Founder of the TUM Blockchain Research Cluster, explained the relevance of Blockchain technology, presented successful use cases and gave an outlook on problems that could be solved by Blockchain technology. Afterwards, lecturers Daniel Schulte-Hillen and Simon Leicht, organizers of ETHBerlin and VC Investors at EarlyBlock, gave an intensive deep dive into the Ethereum Blockchain, DApps & Smart Contracts. Based on established live DApps, the underlying incentive mechanisms (often called “crypto economics”) were explained.
On this basis, the participants set off in five interdisciplinary teams to find an everyday problem that they were passionate about solving with the help of smart contracts two weeks later at the Hackathon. But don’t worry, as always at CDTM there were several feedback loops where the teams received conceptual and technical feedback from experienced lecturers and coaches.
Week 2: Learning the Technical Fundamentals of Blockchain and Smart Contracts: Solidity
The aim of the second week was to equip the teams with the necessary technical skills to build a holistic smart-contract-based solution for their chosen everyday problem.
For this reason, the teams received a technical deep dive from the two lecturers Ulrich Gallersdörfer, who is Blockchain Lecturer and Phd Candidate at TUM and Co-founder of the Blockchain Research Cluster, and Lucas Aschenbach, Founder of Shape. In interactive live-coding sessions the participants got to know the programming language Solidity and designed first smart contracts.
Hackathon Weekend: Code, Eat, Pitch, Repeat – Apply Smart Contracts to Real-Life Problems
By the time of the hackathon, the five teams had gone through several rounds of feedback and knew what everyday problem they wanted to tackle (well, more or less – a few pivots still to come!). Now it was about clean execution. The goal was to build a working technical prototype on the Ethereum Blockchain including a user interface by Sunday afternoon.
In truly agile fashion, the teams got to work, created work packages, designed user flows, drew technical diagrams, mocked first interfaces and iteratively deployed Solidity code on the Ethereum Blockchain for testing. Regular stand-ups with all teams and coaches ensured peer feedback.
On Sunday afternoon the teams pitched their projects and live demos in front of a high-class expert jury…
…an overview of the smart contract applications:
Taskprize is a microtask platform that allows users to offer remote tasks to a community of freelancers through smart contracts. Each task creates a smart contract on an Ethereum test network that includes a description of the task, its due date, and the offered reward for completion. Remote freelancers work on and complete tasks and verify the completion by uploading a photo via IPFS as proof of work. Completion could then be verified by votes of other freelancers on the platform for example. Consensus triggers the smart contract and the reward payment is sent.
Many villages in developing regions have limited capital available, and therefore face a significant barrier if they want to invest in solar PV panels. Also, it’s difficult for them to find financing sources, and the large institutional banks, such as The World Bank and KFW, face a high uncertainty when investing in such small/medium-scale projects. Fin.Energy’s decentralized financing platform reduces financial barriers for villages and counterparty risk for investors, using smart contract technology in conjunction with a proprietary sensor that can measure the electricity being produced by the solar PV panel, among others. The investors and villages receive energy pay-out from the grid based on their equity share in the panels.
Achieve.ly leverages the power of smart contracts to help people reach their running goals. You set a goal, a deadline & pledge money. A personal smart contract on the Ethereum Blockchain stores your money until the deadline and evaluates movement data collected by your running app. If you reach your goals, your money is automatically refunded. If you fail your goals, you pay.
People around the world lose trust in elections and accordingly in democracy. We want to restore this trust with our Blockchain-based election tool named eVote, which allows citizens to make sure that their elections are legitimate. Double voting, altering ballot papers, or wrong counting becomes impossible.
Team BallotBox has built a Blockchain-based survey tool which assures that promised rewards for filling out survey studies will actually be distributed. Getting valuable customer feedback is crucial for companies to improve their product offerings. BallotBox offers a way to trustfully incentivize potential customers and increase the participation rate. Furthermore, it can be easily integrated in existing survey tools like Google Forms or Limesurvey.
Evaluation Criteria, Prizes and Winning Team.
Each team had 15 minutes to convince the jury with their pitch. Afterwards they had to face a 15-minute round of questions. The five teams were evaluated by 10 criteria across 4 fields:
- Impact & Creativity
- Business Model
After 5 outstanding pitches and a tight jury decision team eVote took home the first place and with it five CryptoKitties as well as tickets for ETHBerlin.
Shoutout to the lecturers and coaches!
A big thank you to all coaches and lecturers who shared their free time and knowledge and made the elective possible in the first place:
Want to be a part of the smart contracts elective at CDTM?
Interested in topics around Blockchain and Smart Contracts? Apply now until November 30th, 2019 at 11:59pm to become a student at CDTM! We have regular CDTM Blockchain Meetups with lectures by top experts from industry, academia, entrepreneurship and consulting. A follow-up elective is also planned! If you want to find out more about our study program “Technology Management” first, find more information here.
Tim Hermes (Spring 2018) – Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about the elective course or want to chat about blockchain!