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21 Inc’s bitcoin-mining ASICs – pocket money for Bosch devices?

9 2 min
bitcoinSource: fotolia/ulchik74

In a previous post, we outlined already why Bitcoin has a potential to become an IoT enabler. Since then, the Bosch IoT Lab team has dug a bit deeper into the subject. In order to make the vision of sensors earning money a reality, we contributed to a project at ETH Zurich to build a prototype bitcoin enabled sensor-as-a-service implementation.

21 Inc.

We at the Bosch Lab see the young but heavily funded startup 21 Inc ($121million from Qualcomm, Cisco, and Andreessen Horowitz, among others) as a key player in approaching this vision.

With that in mind, it might be imaginable that recent announcements by 21 sparked high expectations among our PhD students. The startup developed their own bitcoin mining ASICs (application specific integrated circuit) that customers can embed in their internet connected devices. By connecting to 21’s own mining pool, these devices are provided with a continuous stream of tiny fractions of a bitcoin. In order to foster adoption of the technology, 21 Inc released a developer kit in the form of a complete miniature mining computer – loaded with software tools to build bitcoin-payable services – the 21 Bitcoin Computer.

The 21 Bitcoin Computer Source: 21 Inc.
The 21 Bitcoin Computer

Since then, our PhD students Dominic and Thomas have been impatiently anticipating the arrival of our first 21 Bitcoin Computer. Recently, they received at least a little relief 🙂 We were awarded remote access to a device sitting at the 21 Inc offices in San Francisco. So now we are able to gather firsthand – but still remote – experience with the device (that’s the new internet/IoT world).

Screenshot of remote access to 21 Bitcoin Computer Source: 21 Inc.
Screenshot of remote access to 21 Bitcoin Computer

But why is that so important for the Bosch IoT Lab and for Bosch?

As can be seen from this blog, Bosch is working on many IoT applications ranging from enhancing our products with new IoT-enabled features to providing our business customers with IoT technology. For instance, Bosch is among the leading suppliers of microelectromechanical (MEMS) sensors and solutions. Many of these applications could benefit from scenarios in which devices pull data from other services or from other sensors – such as a heating system pulling weather data or a navigation system in a car pulling parking space information.

If so, it might be necessary to pay for those data. This would require the devices to have their own pocket money at hand. And a 21 ASIC offers at least one option for the devices to generate their own pocket money. Understanding that even a comparatively powerful navigation system will not be able to mine bitcoin alone, a dedicated ASIC combined with a mining pool that bundles the forces of numerous devices provides a compelling value proposition.

Up to now, this has all been in theory. Now it’s time for the Bosch IoT Lab to get our hands “dirty” and try it out. We’ll keep you posted.

You want to know more about blockchain?

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Bosch and other international companies have set up a new alliance to make use of blockchain and related technologies.

We compiled a list of everything you should know about blockchain right now


  • 10. February 2016 at 4:43

    Good luck! This is such a great idea. Please use BITCOIN for your internet of things micropayments!

    • 10. February 2016 at 8:27

      Hi Jeff,

      we know there are a few challenges with micropayments on the blockchain itself. But there is also a lot of development ongoing to adress those challenges.

      Best, Markus

  • 18. December 2015 at 21:30

    Dear Mr. Weinberger,

    many thanks for this interesting report. But do you think Bitcoin is really the right choice as token for IOT-applications? In some days a new Crypto-Currency will start with the name IOTA. IOTA is a completely decentralized micro-transactions cryptocurrency developed specifically for the ever-growing Internet-of-Things ecosystem. It’s built on top of a new and novel innovation called ‘Tangle’, instead of a regular blockchain. This allows iota to remain extremely lightweight and efficient in the face of scalability issues that affect other platforms. More information here:

    Best regards

    Markus Bohl

    • 21. December 2015 at 8:55

      Dear Markus,

      thanks a lot for your comment. We are already in contact with the IOTA team. It is very interesting to see that there are different approaches to adress common IoT related topics.
      From my perspective nobody can be 100% sure which technology will emerge as a de facto standard. But I understand that as of today Bitcoin looks promissing as a kind of fundamental backbone.


    • 5. January 2016 at 23:00

      Many thanks Markus, I really appreciate your flexibility here. Dominic is already very active in our development chat.
      Looks very promising for IOTA.

      Best Markus

  • 12. December 2015 at 1:21

    Good luck with your project! Integrating Bitcoin mining with your equipment is a great idea!

  • 11. December 2015 at 23:57

    Sounds cool, but isn’t only to ever make dust? Is it really mining, seems like a faucet site lol.

    • 12. December 2015 at 12:37

      Hi owlcatz,

      currently the dust limit enforced by bitcoin (core) nodes is 546 satoshis. Thus, on-chain transactions are definitely possible with the mining share. But more importantly 21 also allows for off-chain transactions (and payment channel integration is already announced) between 21 Bitcoin Computers. Therefore, an API call might be billed with 1 satoshi to discourage DoS for example.


  • 11. December 2015 at 19:41

    Good luck! Sounds like a cool use case


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