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Nevada’s Filament unveils chip that lets industrial IoT devices communicate with blockchains

Filament, a Reno, Nevada-based startup that develops blockchain solutions to leverage industrial internet of things data, today announced the Blocklet chip, which will allow any industrial device to communicate and interact with multiple blockchain technologies.

Founded in 2012, Filament’s business model initially focused on what cofounder and CEO Allison Clift-Jennings described as more well-known applications of IoT technology — building sensor packages that simply connected industrial devices to the internet. Now, with this new piece of hardware, Clift-Jennings claims that Filament is essentially enabling ecommerce for industrial devices. The Blocklet chip will allow sensor data to be coded directly into the blockchain — data that is often necessary to ensure contracts or transactions have been properly fulfilled.

“In the early internet days, with CERN … the World Wide Web was [essentially] about sharing academic papers, or data,” Clift-Jennings told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “Once ecommerce came around, and brought an economic capability to the internet, everything changed. That’s exactly what Filament is trying to do now with IoT is to bring that same [economic] capability, native to devices and machines themselves.”

Filament’s white paper describes the transactional value the company’s technology might bring to industrial companies. Essentially, there are a number of industries, like shipping, where cargo or products — and in particular, data about the cargo or product — has to be transferred between multiple parties within the supply chain at different points in time. A shipping container might be “packed at a factory in China, transported via rail to the port of Hong Kong, transferred to a container ship that crosses the Pacific Ocean, unloaded in Long Beach for transport by rail again, and finally delivered to another factory in Dallas for unpacking there.”

Filament claims that its Blocklet chip will enable the container to “engage in secure microtransactions: selling data about its location and cargo, negotiating connectivity to communicate with its owner, signing off on delivery to its final destination, perhaps someday even clearing customs.”

In particular, it’s the sale of data that Filament sees as squeezing the most economic value out of industrial IoT devices. Devices could “sell data about environmental conditions to a meteorological agency or sell data about usage of the rail network to an organization specializing in business statistics,” according to the whitepaper.

Filament’s solution is similar to one IBM is looking to market on its blockchain through a partnership with shipping giant Maersk announced today. However, Filament’s chip also enables devices to communicate and interact with multiple blockchain technologies, whereas IBM is currently limited to its private blockchain. Additionally, IBM only has its sights set on shipping for now — Clift-Jennings says that Filament is looking to target other industries, from agriculture to food and beverage to insurance.

Filament has raised more than $22 million in funding since 2012. Clift-Jennings says that having the company’s headquarters in Reno, Nevada has helped secure investments while keeping the startup lean, as Reno is “the largest and closest non-California city to the Bay Area.” Investors include Intel Capital and Samsung NEXT — both investing arms of companies with significant chip expertise.

“Having them as strategic investors has been really helpful for us,” Clift-Jennings said. “Making silicon is no small deal.”

The Blocklet chip, along with the corresponding software, is still in beta. Clift-Jennings says that up until now, the Blocklet chip has been used in pilots conducted internally by Filament. With today’s announcement, Filament will be actively looking for outside companies to deploy pilots with.

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