Malaysian scholars teamed up with UK to develop physical blockchain toolkit

The 'BlocKit', which includes items such as plastic tubs, clay discs, padlocks, envelopes, sticky notes and battery-powered candles, is aimed to help people understand how digital blockchains work and can also be used by innovators designing new systems and services around blockchain.

According to a recent release, a team of computer scientists from the Universiti Teknologi MARA, in Malaysia, Lancaster University, and the University of Edinburgh in the UK have designed and developed the prototype BlocKit because blockchain – the decentralised digital infrastructure that is used to organise the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and holds promise to revolutionise many other sectors from finance, supply-chain and healthcare – is difficult for people to comprehend.

One of the lead professors on the project at Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications stated that despite growing interest in its potential, the blockchain is so novel, disruptive and complex, it is hard for most people to understand how these systems work.

Hence, the team has created a prototype kit consisting of physical objects that fulfil the roles of different parts of the blockchain. The kit helps people visualise the different component parts of blockchain, and how they all interact.

The BlocKit consisted of physical items that represented 11 key aspects of blockchain infrastructure and it was used to explore key characteristics of blockchain, such as trust – an important challenge for Bitcoin users. The kit was evaluated as part of a study involving 15 experienced Bitcoin users.

According to the release, the team received very positive feedback from the people who used the kit in their study and, interestingly, the team found that the BlocKit can also be used by designers looking to develop new services based around blockchain – such as managing patients’ health records, for example.

The work is outlined in a paper entitled ‘BlocKit: a Physical Kit for Materializing and Designing for Blockchain Infrastructure’.

The paper’s abstract states that blockchain is a disruptive technology which has significantly challenged assumptions that underpin financial institutions, and has provoked innovation strategies that have the potential to change many aspects of the digital economy.

However, because of its novelty and complexity, mental models of blockchain technology are difficult to acquire. Building on embodied cognition theories and material centred-design, the team reports an innovative approach for the design of BlocKit, a physical three-dimensional kit for materializing blockchain infrastructure and its key entities.

BlocKit was evaluated by 15 experienced bitcoin users with findings indicating its value for their high level of engagement in communicating about, and designing for blockchain infrastructure.

The team’s study advances an innovative approach for the design of such kits, an initial vocabulary to talk about them, and design implications intended to inspire HCI researchers to engage in designing for infrastructures.

Malaysia could benefit from the tool as it seeks to expand its use of blockchain.

Tools like these will be extremely valuable to Malaysian tech talent as it will enable them to understand and then experiment with blockchain technology in a tangible way.