Robert Learney is Lead Technologist in Blockchain and DLT at Digital Catapult, the British government innovation agency for the digital and software industry
Digital Catapult is one of the most important organisations in the UK when it comes to emerging technologies. Cut loose from marketing, influencer and sales hype, the government agency equips UK businesses with tools and knowledge to become early adopters of transformational technologies. And with their help, forward-thinking UK businesses can receive grants to fund the next generation of game-changing tech projects.
A technology that both inspires and confuses businesses in equal measure is blockchain — which is technically not one technology but a suite of technologies comprising distributed databases, cryptography and automated contracts.
Despite sometimes outrageous hype over the last few years, the blockchain revolution hasn’t quite arrived. That doesn’t mean blockchain is without substance. Excitement might not quite be at the level it was two or three years ago, but revealingly, Digital Catapult’s blockchain efforts have only accelerated. This fact suggests it would be naive to rule blockchain out just yet.
The right fit
Robert Learney, a blockchain expert who also co-founded the Imperial College Centre for Cryptocurrency Research and Engineering, leads the blockchain programme at Digital Catapult, where he convenes and guides non-FinTech players to experiment with the technology “in the right ways”.
“The reasoning behind all of our blockchain/DLT work is simple – we love this technology and want to see it transform the world for the better,” says Robert. “But there are big issues standing in the way, not least the absence of visible demonstrations of its utility outside cryptocurrencies.”
Digital Catapult is busy trying to demonstrate compelling blockchain use cases beyond Bitcoin. One of the many large grand-funded blockchain projects Digital Catapult is assisting with is the EU Horizon 2020-funded INJECT, a project looking at the possibility of building automated license agreements for journalists to access new content.
Another, VITALam – funded by the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute – is exploring how DLT can help secure data from “additive manufacturing”, 3D printing to you and I. As additive manufacturing becomes more popular, there are growing concerns that printing files could be deliberately corrupted or stolen for gain. Defence, nuclear, and aerospace companies, therefore, want to ensure they can share digital factory data, learning and intelligence securely.