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

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.

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

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.


About the author

Markus Weinberger

Markus Weinberger

I am Professor for "Internet of Things" at Aalen University. Before I have been Director of the Bosch Internet of Things & Services Lab at the University of St. Gallen. During the almost 15 years at Bosch I gained experience in such different fields as driver assistance systems, internal auditing and engineering services. I had the opportunity to work in areas like ergonomics, calibration of electronic control units, project management, process management and Enterprise 2.0. I hold a Ph.D. in Engineering from the Technische Universität München. I studied mechanical engineering in Munich and Trondheim, Norway.