Welcome to Olsztyn — the capital of the Warmian and Masurian region in Poland, also called the “Land of a Thousand Lakes” — which has recently implemented blockchain to improve its municipal sector, including tourism and emergency services.
Although the region is still far from achieving its smart city goals like scaling 1:1 within the Internet of Things (IoT), it is already experimenting with innovative solutions which are being integrated and tested. It gives hope for the quicker adoption and deployment of sci-fi-like concepts.
The goal of the Warmian and Masurian region’s new smart city concept is to provide both visitors and residents with easy-to-navigate solutions so they can easily traverse their way around the city, and by using its very own token.
BeInCrypto reached out to the project leads and local authorities who have been working on the development of the system’s native token, CoperniCoin, as well as independent experts. The token was originally designed as part of a broader vision of introducing blockchain technology into the natural circulation of municipal energy.
They explained how cryptography can play a key role in building cities of the future. Here, it all started with the commemoration of the legacy of Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish astronomer from the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries.
But first education
While CoperniCoin’s initial concept was based on educational aspects, subsequently, it is to become an element of gastronomy, business, and other real life applications. Gustaw Marek Brzezin, the Marshal of the Warmian and Masurian Voivodeship, told BeInCrypto that the initiative is “an attempt to use and learn about [blockchain] technology that is compared to the next internet revolution.” Brzezin said:
“The inhabitants of the Warmian and Masurian region can get a token by participating in events devoted to Copernicus organized in the region or through activity in social media, contests, and games, and then exchange it for prizes on a specially created platform.”
Maciej Bułkowski, a director of the Information Society Department at the Marshal’s Office of the Warmian and Masurian Voivodeship in Olsztyn, added, “The CoperniCoin project is intended not only to aggregate various areas related to the promotion of the region’s tourist attractions, but also to be an educational element familiarizing representatives of different generations with new technologies.”
Still, for some, such an initiative could seem nothing but a marketing move rather than an actual transformation of the tourism sector of the region. Matt Luczynski, founder and chief strategy officer at crypto-focused travel app Travala, thinks it can be beneficial both ways and expressed the following opinion:
“Given my experience within the travel and tourism sector, i do believe it is both a marketing opportunity and a key part of the next phase of innovation within the industry. Blockchain technology not only gives power back to the individual users, but also provides supply chain management, inventory management, data security, and many more benefits of utilizing a blockchain within the sector.”
Luczynski believes that the introduction of the occasional CoperniCoin token will provide added value to the region which it has not yet seen before. “This also not only attracts tourists but also employment talents from both a tourism and technical background. These fundamentals enable the region to prosper in coming decades,” he added.
He also said that it’s important for a project to have a native token to provide value to those within its ecosystem. The project’s economy could work with an existing one, however it potentially wouldn’t achieve nor have the benefits it has with the creations of its own native token, according to Luczynski.
CoperniCoin token is just a prelude
The occasional CoperniCoin token is just a prelude. The local government of the Warmian and Masurian Voivodeship wants to use blockchain for much wider applications, the effect of which is to be the idea of a smart city of the future.
In such a city, public administration does not exercise absolute control and does not plan development in a centralized manner. Conversely, it only provides support for innovative solutions. As Bułkowski claims, “e-administration is acceleration, stimulation, and support of the changes taking place in the economy related to digital transformation.”
The local authorities – in cooperation with the KEZO Foundation (Energy Conversion and Renewable Sources) at the Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences – have the ambitious goal of creating such a decentralized system based on blockchain. Earlier solutions simply did not provide enough transparency and security.
The concept related to the system operation and its functioning was created over two years ago. However, only blockchain deployment has made it possible to ensure openness and security at the same time.
The idea emerged to create an urban blockchain ecosystem in which both the vital matters and mundane meal deliveries and waste collection could function flawlessly and automatically in the cryptographic space.
The openness of this ecosystem allows it to be constantly expanded with new elements, while, at the same time, users would decide for themselves which ideas should be further developed and improved, and which ones should be rejected. Thus, the city of Olsztyn and the region of Warmia and Mazury entered into cooperation with SmartKey.
Parallel use of two blockchain networks
Diving deeper into the topic, BeInCrypto spoke with Marta Zarosa, CMO at SmartKey, who stated that the project’s goal is “to provide technological foundations for the concept of the smart city of the future.” She explained:
“We go out into the real world and connect blockchain to physical objects within the Internet of Things. The usefulness of blockchain in delivering communication is to replace the cloud. An open ecosystem for such solutions is something truly unique.”
The project’s white paper assumes the parallel use of two blockchain networks: Ethereum and Waves. The first is for paying fees and creating a native Skey token, while the second is responsible for instant and cheap communication between devices.
The implementation began with the improvement of car rental systems and cooperation with KIA and Mercedes. Subsequent implementations included mechanisms for automatic gates and barriers. Zarosa claims that “as for the next steps, we will want to integrate courier service providers, intercom systems, municipal waste collection, janitors, and local pizza suppliers.”
In the meantime, the main implementation that is currently being used in Olsztyn on an increasing scale is the application called the “Rescue Without Barriers.” It is used by emergency services in life-threatening situations in order to reach the sick and injured as soon as possible. This solution is of particular importance in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bułkowski explained the functioning of this system:
“Ambulances and other emergency services have a serious problem with getting to people in need because of the numerous barriers, gates, and intercom. The medical team leaves the ambulance and has to walk with heavy equipment to the person, wasting too much time.”
Using the “Rescue Without Barriers” app allows one to automatically open and close all routes integrated with the blockchain ecosystem. Not only does it improve the movement of ambulances and reduce patient wait times, but it also protects public and private property.
Paramedics no longer have to choose whether to destroy the gate or barrier, or wait for someone with a key or remote control. It looks like magic, but the gates open by themselves:
“In order to gain immediate access to closed zones, the program has created a public, uniform, and secure service, operating due to an open access control ‘data bus’ dedicated to emergency services.”
Zarosa said that talks are already underway on the implementation of a similar blockchain ecosystem in other Polish cities such as Opole, Warsaw, and Lublin, and also beyond the country’s borders.
Difficulties along the way
BeInCrypto asked Bułkowski about the difficulties his department encountered while implementing the pioneering blockchain solutions described above. He stated that the greatest challenge was “to build the concept of process flows, how to implement the solution, mechanisms of operation, among other things,” as well as the broadly understood legal environment.
“In these two cases [CoperniCoin and ‘Rescue Without Barriers’], we are dealing with the use of new technologies which are often not followed by regulations. It is also a big challenge to convince non-technological partners.”
Bułkowski added that we still do not have many examples of real implementations of blockchain technology, and an average Joe still has no idea about the existence of such solutions. If there is a response, it usually applies only to cryptocurrencies and is probably negative:
“However, the most popular and common use case is cryptocurrency, which is often shown in the negative tone. That’s why it is extremely important to talk about the benefits of blockchain technology, also showing its real advantages and implementation results.”
As for the travel industry, it has its own hidden pitfalls. Luczynski reminded that “there are so many verticals of the travel industry that can be disrupted with the implementation of blockchain and cryptocurrency.”
“In my experience, focus on an initial vertical before expanding into other areas. Master the initial vertical, make sure it works, and has users. The biggest failure with any start up or business is the lack of traction. Pushing hard 24/7 is important and a key factor in my personal success. Travel is a broad market, there’s so much potential for change and improvement,” he continued.
Elaborating on which factors could become the barriers to the tech’s further adoption in the region, Travala founder said that it is users. “The product has to be fit for purpose, user friendly, and also do everything the user is expecting and more,” he said.
Forecasts for the development of the cities of the future
The activities of local authorities in Olsztyn and the Warmian and Masurian Voivodeship in cooperation with the SmartKey project are part of the Internet of Things based on blockchain technology.
This revolutionary concept could be the foundation for the smart cities of the future. Connecting many devices, services and components into one ecosystem is one of the greatest challenges for urban development, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, Marta Zarosa mentioned to us talks between SmartKey and Chainlink (LINK) to “make the operation of supported devices dependent on changes in weather data.” This would open the door for the automatic operation of intelligent roofs, domes, and umbrellas.
The ultimate goal is to provide users with easy-to-navigate solutions so that residents themselves can create applications and solve problems they encounter. Zarosa said with optimism:
“We are introducing such a standard for device communication so that the application can talk to the device and users can customize it, according to their own needs. The number of devices that can enter this ecosystem is endless.”
The optimistic forecasts for the development of the cities of the future are also shared by Bułkowski who mentions ongoing works on creating the platform of the SmartRegion Ecosystem. This solution is going beyond the city of Olsztyn:
“The system consists of many elements aggregating specific areas, implemented in stages, such as the construction of a data bus enabling the connection of IoT solutions from various suppliers, combined with a solution based on a public blockchain network, which will enable reliable and transparent handling of settlements between service providers and customers.”
Creating the foundations for smart cities of the future is not a simple task and requires the coordination of many involved entities, equipment suppliers, legal solutions, and others. However, thanks to the creative implementations of blockchain technology, such as CoperniCoin, “Rescue Without Barriers,” or the SmartKey project, we already have a technological potential to develop these revolutionary solutions. Olsztyn is just the beginning.