Implications of a machine economy

Cattle herding and biological carbon sequestring with robots

This post is related to the post about Australian bushfires. It dives deeper into the possibilities IOTA offers regarding solutions mentioned there. Over time we’ll develop this into a usecase that can explored in a hackathon.

[This post only contains some basic ideas on how to use IOTA, but does not go into the details of how to build it. It would require much more research in order to better specify the problem, and define what a successful solution would achieve.]

The basic idea here is that we use natural mechanisms to capture CO2, balance water supply, and manage grassland, but use (autonomous) robots to manage these processes. One of the main reasons robots are essential is the absence of predators in many ecosystems1.

For more information read on the mechanism read this part of the post, or read the free sample chapter describing the origin and its current implementation.

The role a distributed ledger like IOTA could play

IOTA is a feeless microtransactions and data integrity protocol, designed for the future of the Internet of Things. It is decentralized in order to allow it to scale beyond what centralized organizations can do. On top of its function as a ledger, several additional technologies and standards are being developed to help kickstart a machine economy.

Instruct and pay machines

Machines need to know where the fenceposts should be moved next. IOTA’s data capability can reliably transmit messages to the machines in the field. Vice versa the machines can transmit data about the environment back to us, for processing and monitoring. When machines become capable of (near-) fully autonomous behavior, they can be paid for their services with IOTA’s micro-transactions. The machine can use this money to buy energy, information, spare parts/repairs, or internet connection.

Connect machines and sensors without relying on ISP’s

In many rural areas the internet connection is subpar. Not to think of truly remote areas far away from civilization. I’m not a big fan of satellite internet, because without regulation it is going to be the next ecosystem we pollute, only this time the space trash is an even bigger problem for civilization2

Instead, all these machines and sensors could create a mesh infrastructure for data. An existing example on IOTA is Fognet, a peer-to-peer internet router system on Bluetooth. But LoRa, NB-IoT, or Sigfox might just as well be used. IOTA could be used to provide an incentive for these machines to participate in this mesh, without the need for contracts or any centralized agreement. Machines just pay and are paid for connection using the hardware they already carry with them.

Decentralized data markets

Making this concept into a decentralized system is not an easy task. A normal approach would be to legislate and subsidize, in order to make all participants comply with the intended outcome. However, such rules and incentives are prone to trigger corruption and fraud. We’re currently developing an idea around the availability economy, which could potentially work here too. A decentralized data market would be a prerequisite for this idea, because it allows all participants to independently and reliably base their decisions on the same data.

Analysis data for grazing patterns

Data analysis can be done in huge server farms far from the grazing grounds. But in the future, sending data that far away might not be possible3 , or even needed. IOTA’s Qubic is a technology to outsource computing that is too heavy for a machine to do by itself. But instead of relying on a service like Amazon Web Services, Qubic utilizes excess computing capacity from idling computers closer by. IOTA in this case provides data transmission and micro-transactions for services rendered.

Contribute to this idea

Many details regarding the automation of this solution still need to figuring out, but this is a working solution that is in both our ecological and economic interest. If you have feedback or want to share your ideas regarding this idea, just leave your comment. We’d be happy to add your input to the post.

If you want to develop this as part of a hackathon, please contact us directly. We11 would love to support you, and possibly be part of your team.

About the author

Bas van Sambeek

Communications strategist, specialized in the positioning of high tech products. I help innovative start-ups and fast growing companies in high tech industries clarify their story through positioning and storytelling.


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  • Hi Bas,

    A very interesting idea. We’re actually already working on a SAM’s (Smart Agricultural Machines) project for a small-scale farming mechanisation pilot in East Africa (Kenya). However, for this concept I see the grazing management module and LoRaWAN comms to be the two big headaches. I assume you’d want Qubic to do the computation on Edge devices – so that could actually be done on the SAM’s.

    In terms of powering SAM’s in off-grid areas, we’re already working on the Zipswarm battery pack (I’ve discussed this with Florian Doebler). As its name suggests, it’s about intelligent use of energy by swarms of SAMS in OGOROW (Off-Grid, Off-Road,Off-Wireless rural areas -the only way this could work.

    We’re already applying for a feasability study through a UK government funding mechanism to work on modelling a distributed energy to support pack delivery to SAM’s. This is through the University of Birmingham, University of Leicester and University of Loughborough.

    I’m not sure a hackathon is the correct mechanism to deliver an MVP for this. Seems to me more like a unified research project with the IOTA Foundation in paertnership with ZipGroup and these Uni’s. Anyways, there are a lot of other moving parts going on here, so happy to have a chat if it helps. to fleah things out.

    Ed Bell-King

    • Hi Ed, thanks for your reply. You are right that it’s intended to run on Qubic when that has matured enough. This post however is a bit of a hack right now. It was part of a bigger post on the Australian bushfires, but that one grew too big/unreadable, so I copied the IOTA specific part into this post. It was meant more as an illustration to support the bigger idea than an exact specification. I hope to expand it later, in order to make this post more tangible.

      Regarding the grazing management I have no clue how it’s done currently, let alone how to do it in a (semi-) decentralized fashion. I’d have to contact Lovell for that. And the networking part is also rather handwavey right now 😉 To be honest, our approach is more of a higher level one. We’re looking at incentives rather than implementations, because in my experience we tend to sometimes try to engineer ourselves out of problems that require a different, softer approach.

      I think successful innovation is a two-sided coin with technology on one side, and psychology on the other one. They can’t be separated, though in my experience what tends to happen is that when you dive into the nuts-and-bolts part you lose sight of the bigger picture. I understand that is how it works – you have to get the stuff to function in the first place. However, what we’re trying to do on this blog is connect the engineering to human behavior in an early stage, to make sure the solution hits the ground running, instead of having to try to square a round hole with whatever your engineering process delivered. The reason to suggest a hackathon was purely practical in that sense: to get a working model fast, and observe how it works in practice. I did not consider to do this with universities, but that is a good one too.

      I’ll reach out to you this week, and I’m reaching out to Florian too. We had a short chat at the Berlin meetup, and our approaches line up rather neatly so cooperating with IF is definitely an option.

      • Hi Bas,

        Many thanks for the response.

        Sure, I look forward to seeing what comes out of this. I was supposed to meet up with Florian at the recent event in Berlin to discuss how our Biodiversity/Ecosystems platform approach could be linked to the IOTA Smart Farming initiative/Industry Marketplace. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to conflicting commitments.

        I think we’re are coming at it from slightly different angles but certainly we’re interested in exploring a farmer/community/landscape level response to some of the same issues. We’ll be looking to be doing some work on this with semi-nomadic herding communities in Kenya/Tanzania in the Serengeti through a partner we have. Take a look at the Serengti Rules documentary on the BBC I-Player (their catch-up service) if you can get it over in Holland – or is it officially the Netherlands now – I’m confused :-)!

        You may know that as the UK is leaving the EU we now need to put in place our own Farming/Agricultural Support system. This affords an opportunity for the UK to change our approach to how we manage the land.

        Our new Government is intent on removing the current CAP Area Payments type system and will replace that with a financial mechanism to support farmers, but ONLY if they produce ‘Public Goods’ which means they need to agree to farm in a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly way. This will entail more farmer-to-farmer cooperation beyond the own farm gate (a considerable change in their approach). They’ll be encouraged to work with each other and local environmental NGO’s working at a landscape level.

        We are working to put together such a group in the Cambrian Mountains in Mid Wales to see how this could be done. Particularly, we’re looking at farmer and local community collaboration on how land/livestock can be maintained across a much wider area to better mimic natural ecosystems. This effort will require the landscape level monitoring platform to be linked closely to Payment for Ecosystems Services with this financial support coming from DEFRA (Department for Rural Affairs).

        We’re looking on this with University partners and ideally, will use the IOTA Foundation Industry Marketplace platform as a MVP.

        Were at an early stage in building our collaboration and proposal with the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research, School of Geography Geology and the Environment, University of Leicester.

        BTW, my view on the Australian bushfires is that the Oz Government need to take a much more holistic, landscape-level approach to this issue. Most of the farm- land needs to be re-hydrated. Google the work that Peter Andrews has been doing to change attitudes – see here -


Implications of a machine economy