Reports From The Field: Helium In The Wild — Lisbon

On Nov 2nd, my bride Lee & I set off to 4 cities in Europe to con­duct a Heli­um Foun­da­tion project called “Heli­um In The Wild” with three goals. 

First, to see how Heli­um was being used in the wild. Obvi­ous­ly sen­sor usage isn’t huge yet, and lots of b.s. has been thrown around the inter­we­bz about what is and isn’t hap­pen­ing with it. My gut is that we’re total­ly and fine and about where I’d expect us to be for a very new and ambi­tious project, but…

I want­ed to meet real peo­ple on the ground who are build­ing with Heli­um and see for myself just how far along it actu­al­ly is, who’s using it, and how. 

Sec­ond, to ral­ly local com­mu­ni­ties togeth­er so they could learn, net­work and grow the Heli­um ecosys­tem local­ly. One of the amaz­ing strengths of all these decen­tral­ized projects is that they’re decen­tral­ized. Duh. It’s also a weak­ness, as it can be hard to find focus points where you actu­al­ly meet oth­er peo­ple in real life who are inter­est­ed in the same things you are. 

Third, to show with “boots on the ground” that the Heli­um Foun­da­tion is strong­ly sup­port­ing IoT projects out­side of the US. I know, I know, there’s been a ton of news about 5G late­ly. For those of you A) out­side the USA and B) into IoT, it has felt at times as if the Heli­um project has aban­doned IoT. It has­n’t, and part of this project was to demon­strate that.

Our first stop was Lis­bon, where Solana Break­point was kick­ing off. We did the flight in two steps; San Diego to Lon­don, and Lon­don to Lis­bon. On the Lon­don to Lis­bon flight, I’ll esti­mate about 60% of the pas­sen­gers were there for Solana. That seemed excit­ing, as the rea­son I was start­ing in Lis­bon was to see how much of the Solana ecosys­tem was build­ing on, in, and around Helium.

As I asked around the air­port gate wait­ing to board the flight to Lis­bon (no, I don’t have a prob­lem meet­ing strangers), what I found was that, while most peo­ple had *heard* of Heli­um, very few knew what it was, what it did, or had any idea of the size of it. 

That trend con­tin­ued through­out my Solana Break­point expe­ri­ence. It rein­forces (to me) that we’re still super ear­ly in this whole thing, and while the move to Solana is a huge deal in the Heli­um com­mu­ni­ty, it has­n’t real­ly spread as “hot news” through­out the Solana devel­op­er com­mu­ni­ty yet. 

Now, it’s not the like the very first thing I did was go straight to Solana Break­point. I want­ed to meet some Heli­um homies first, and Lis­bon is the home base for Hotspot­ty OGs Daniel and Max. Daniel was the one who walked me through (on YouTube) build­ing my very first Heli­um Hotspot, back when the DIY pro­gram was open. For the record, the DIY pro­gram is not open now, but it’s on the roadmap for the future. I’d expect mid to late 2023 at a guess. Ok, back to Lisbon!

Lee & I cruised over to the cof­fee shop that Daniel used to co-own (before he switched full time to Hotspot­ty) to meet up with a few oth­er Heli­um peeps.

Max was at the shop as well, and while we were there, the map­pers that RAK Wire­less donat­ed as part of sup­port for the tour showed up. Daniel imme­di­ate­ly start­ed work­ing to get them set up. 

As Daniel start­ed to tear into the map­pers, I got to vis­it with Miroslav Marko, own­er of Heli­otics, and Char­bel Mat­ta, own­er of CM7. Both of them are work­ing on build­ing busi­ness­es on Heli­um, and both were in Lis­bon to check out Solana Break­point and catch up with the Heli­um com­mu­ni­ty. Meet­ing these two was a great indi­ca­tion of the cur­rent state of build­ing out the IoT side of Helium.

Both are deeply tech­ni­cal, already have a relat­ed busi­ness, and see the val­ue in a glob­al, per­mis­sion­less, decen­tral­ized net­work. It was heart­en­ing to talk with both of ’em, and along with Max (Hotspot­ty) and Joey Hiller (Heli­um Foun­da­tion), we spent most of the rest of the day togeth­er walk­ing around, shar­ing a meal, and talk­ing about Helium.

This first day was super encour­ag­ing; we were meet­ing peo­ple who were build­ing on and excit­ed about Heli­um! We spent the next four days check­ing out Solana Break­point, where we def­i­nite­ly did­n’t meet as many peo­ple who were so deeply involved in Heli­um. Still, we watched close­ly as both Nova and the Heli­um Foun­da­tion demon­strat­ed a clear com­mit­ment to con­tin­ue to grow Helium. 

Amir spent about half the time talk­ing about IoT, and the oth­er half talk­ing about the 5G plans as well as how the net­work is ready­ing itself to take on more pro­to­cols. I’ve seen a fair amount of “Nova is aban­don­ing IoT” FUD, but pret­ty clear­ly that’s not the case. 

There were oth­er excel­lent pre­sen­ta­tions there that I’ll go deep­er into. Let’s start with Abhay Kumar’s. Abhay is the new CEO at the Heli­um Foun­da­tion , and he talked exten­sive­ly about the move over to Solana.

Abhay spent time explain­ing what Heli­um is, which is some­thing we (the com­mu­ni­ty) need to remem­ber is an unfin­ished task. I’ll skip for­ward quite a bit here to the lessons learned at the last stop on the tour, Barcelona, where I found that most peo­ple in the Smart Cities space have nev­er heard of Helium. 

Look, in grow­ing the Heli­um IoT net­work to over 970k Hotspots in over 75,000 cities in the last three years, the Heli­um com­mu­ni­ty has made a pret­ty good start towards achiev­ing the long term goal, which is to “pro­vide ubiq­ui­tous afford­able con­nec­tiv­i­ty to the Inter­net for all things and peo­ple.” We (com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, includ­ing myself) tend to think of Heli­um as a pret­ty big deal, and some­thing “every­one” knows about. They don’t. Not even close. We have a ton of work to do when it comes to just let­ting peo­ple know we exist, let alone what Heli­um can do! Ok, back to Abhay’s talk.

Abhay talked about the IoT side and also intro­duced the MOBILE net­work. He did­n’t go deep into either one. His talk was­n’t about explain­ing Heli­um in depth, it was about mak­ing sure the Solana com­mu­ni­ty under­stood, at a high lev­el, what Heli­um is bring­ing as far as an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Solana devel­op­ers and the ecosystem. 

He intro­duced the idea of HIP 51, the Heli­um DAO. Now, for those of us in the world of Heli­um, HIP 51 is old news, but for the crowd, a lot of this was new.

Abhay also talked about HIP 70, which is the one that pro­posed a new archi­tec­ture for core parts of the blockchain. Dig more into HIP 70 here, but the short ver­sion rel­e­vant here is that it allows Heli­um to move to a new L1, tak­ing the bur­den of build­ing a blockchain off the Heli­um com­mu­ni­ty. It means we, whether “we” means Nova, or the Heli­um Foun­da­tion, or you, can do the thing we’re the best at, which is deploy cov­er­age and build busi­ness­es relat­ed to that coverage.

One of the first excit­ing things that hap­pens with the move to Solana is the mint­ing of almost a mil­lion NFTs, one for each Hotspot. The impli­ca­tions of this aren’t yet under­stood, but what I think we’ll see is an explo­sion in flex­i­bil­i­ty on own­er­ship splits, enabling bet­ter incen­tives for health­i­er net­work growth, and some very inter­est­ing smart con­tract applications. 

Until I re-watched Abhay’s talk, I missed one of the key parts; Heli­um Foun­da­tion has acquired the Stra­ta Pro­to­col. Stra­ta is a pro­to­col to launch tokens on Solana, so this makes sense. This makes it rea­son­ably like­ly for the Foun­da­tion to hit its goal of get­ting Heli­um on Solana main­net by Q1 2023.

Noah Prince from Stra­ta joined Abhay on stage to go through a demo of Hotspots earn­ing MOBILE tokens and inter­act­ing with HNT. He touched on secu­ri­ty aspects, includ­ing cir­cuit break­ers. As an exam­ple, if more than, say 20% of the MOBILE tokens leave the trea­sury in some con­fig­urable win­dow, say 24 hours, there’s an auto­mat­ic shut down. 

Noah also demo’d the Back­pack wal­let to show how you’d claim rewards. With about a mil­lion hotspots, if all rewards were released all the time, it would spam the chain with trans­ac­tions. The way they’ve set it up is that a Hotspot NFT will be like a piña­ta; it’ll hold all your rewards until you hit it, at which point it’ll release ’em to you. Sim­ple. He also showed how you can redeem MOBILE for HNT, which is a one-way oper­a­tion; you can’t buy MOBILE, you can only earn it or redeem it for HNT. With that HNT you can buy Data Cred­its and then use the Network. 

What’s left is the inte­gra­tion with Heli­um’s cloud. That is a sys­tem of Ora­cles count­ing all the pack­ets that are used by all the Hotspots and pro­vide Proof of Cov­er­age rewards and fig­ure out the life­time rewards for all enti­ties. Chal­lenges include tak­ing all the cur­rent Hotspots and rewards and bring­ing them into the Solana sys­tem. Mint­ing a mil­lion Hotspot NFTs at $.40/mint is an enor­mous cost which they may try and solve with NFT com­pres­sion. With many tech­ni­cal prob­lems still to be solved, the core func­tion­al­i­ty of how the DAOs and sub­DAOs work appears to be sort­ed out.

Next, Joey Hiller, Jose Marceli­no, and Car­rie Kel­lar pre­sent­ed on how some of the use cas­es that start to occur with Heli­um on Solana.

Joey’s demon­stra­tion ref­er­enced his IKEA air qual­i­ty sen­sor build, inter­net con­nect­ed chick­en coops and sup­ply chain track­ing for small cof­fee shops; it’s always fun to lis­ten to his talks. Jose Marceli­no from RAK Wire­less joined Joey to go through a demo with Track­pac, which is BFGNeil’s com­pa­ny that uses Browan Tabs and oth­er track­ers to pro­vide a super easy expe­ri­ence with using Helium. 

Now, one of the things we hear all the time from the FUD­pa­trol is how no one is using Heli­um, which is (fair­ly obvi­ous­ly to those of us using it) bull­shit. Still, it was nice to see Jose put num­bers to just one cus­tomer’s use; 1,200,000 check ins from Track­pac track­ers since ear­ly 2022, all on the Heli­um network. 

Get­ting a Track­pac track­er to work is sim­ple; down­load an app, scan a QR code, and you’re track­ing what­ev­er it is you want. RAK Wire­less & Track­pac worked togeth­er to track bus­es and shut­tles for Solana par­tic­i­pants to move between the 3 main venues dur­ing Solana Break­point. Prov­ing that the Heli­um IoT net­work is super cheap to use, track­ing 26 vehi­cles across the city for 3 days cost 46.8 cents in total. (26 track­ers x 1.8 cents per track­er for the 3 days).

Car­rie Kel­lar, the CTO and co-founder of Baxus, shared the stage and talked about how Baxus is cre­at­ing infra­struc­ture for tan­gi­ble assets, start­ing with whiskey and wine. Baxus has cre­at­ed a pipeline for col­lec­tors to authen­ti­cate, store, and insure their wine and whiskey. They allow you to mint an NFT that acts as proof of own­er­ship and authen­ti­ca­tion which users can trade or use as col­lat­er­al for loans. 

Baxus is using Heli­um to pro­vide proof of pres­ence as well as tem­per­a­ture and oth­er sen­sor data to show the envi­ron­ment of a spe­cif­ic cask or bar­rel through­out its life­time. This gives a col­lec­tor the abil­i­ty to audit, in real time, the loca­tion, state, and his­to­ry of a spe­cif­ic unit. Casks are out­fit­ted with tem­per­a­ture and humid­i­ty sen­sors, and will soon have track­ers attached. Now, I’m not a wine or whiskey col­lec­tor, but I do like nice things and, like many of us, I’ve got a Gol­lum-like obses­sion with see­ing the state of some­thing I own when­ev­er I want to. Watch­ing Car­rie talk, I could see the pow­er in lay­er­ing the abil­i­ty to get all this data cheap­ly on top of an NFT

The upshot of the Baxus pre­sen­ta­tion is that we’ve got yet anoth­er indus­try being born on the back of Heli­um and unlock­ing the poten­tial present in a dif­fer­ent L1. Before Heli­um, there was­n’t the cheap and ubiq­ui­tous cov­er­age across rur­al areas and down in wine cel­lars that you need in order to track bar­rels of wine and casks of whiskey. Now there is. Yes, the world is chang­ing, and if you’re read­ing this, you’re wit­ness­ing his­to­ry. You can expect to see some­thing like this hap­pen­ing for every type of ingre­di­ent and col­lectible thing that exists.

This was all super excit­ing to see. From the broad per­spec­tives of Amir and Abhay down to the use cas­es that Jose, Joey, and Car­rie demo’d, this was evi­dence of Nova and Heli­um Foun­da­tion’s efforts at grow­ing the Heli­um ecosys­tem and ensur­ing the tran­si­tion to a new blockchain unlocks a ton of new val­ue (not just a faster chain that works better.)

What’s next in the Heli­um In The Wild series? Why, the Heli­um Train Hackathon, of course. My post on that will come out in the next few days. In the mean­time, rest assured that the Heli­um ecosys­tem is alive and kick­ing, and though it may still be a baby, it has all the hall­marks of grow­ing up to be a giant. Rock on! 


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