BitComp projects aim to encourage students to spend their bitcoin

Apps developed for competition try to increase cryptocurrency’s accessibility

MIT’s BitComp, a summer-long competition to incentivize bitcoin-related development to correspond to an upcoming distribution of the cryptocurrency to undergraduates, announced its winners last week.

The competition is part of an ever-growing presence of bitcoin at MIT, a trend that began when Jeremy L. Rubin ’16 and Sloan student Dan B. Elitzer announced in April that one hundred dollars worth of bitcoin would be doled out to every MIT undergraduate during the fall 2014 semester. In the same vein, the Kendall COOP announced it has begun to accept bitcoin.

BitComp awarded a $5,000 grand prize and five $1,500 category awards, according to its announcement. The grand prize went to a team called Ethos that was composed of MIT graduate students Amir Lazarovich and Guy Zyskind as well as bitcoin entrepreneur Oz Nathan. Ethos successfully built a prototype of a decentralized network that uses bitcoin technology to share and store personal data, according to the competition’s press release.

“We hope that in a few years, the paradigm for personal data storage will be different,” Lazarovich wrote in an email to The Tech. “Instead of online companies storing our personal data in nontransparent ways, people will use Ethos to control their online identity.”

BitComp’s Engineering Award was given to Brandon A. Miranda ’15 for his project, CoinJoin. This award was given to the application or service that featured “impressive engineering or that was effective in demonstrating the capabilities of bitcoin.” CoinJoin is a protocol that allows users of BitCoin to safely “mix” their bitcoin with those of others by enhancing the users’ privacy. In an email to The Tech, Miranda expressed his hope that CoinJoin “will be used to help preserve the privacy of bitcoin users.”

The Improving MIT Award, for the project “with the most potential for improving some aspect of student life at MIT,” went to MIT undergraduates Mitchell Gu ’18, Jiahao Li ’18, and Nelson Liu ’15, who worked together to create BitStation. The application is a Bitcoin wallet tailored specifically to the MIT community and is designed to function like email and social media sites with features like a public network feed and transaction messages.

BitStation was intended to help people who do not understand how bitcoin works or how to use it by “providing a concise and easy to use interface,” said Liu in an email to The Tech.

The winners of BitComp’s “awesome award” were Samuel Udotong ’16 and Drexel University sophomore Om Mahida, the creators of Fireflies, a “community-based task sharing application facilitated by bitcoin payments,” according to the release.

BitComp’s “next billion award” was awarded to the team that best addressed challenges in developing nations. The winning project was Rex Mercury, created by Sloan graduate Will Clurman, Michelle Higa Fox of Brown University, Brett Ludwig of Alberta & Grant Macewan University, Allan Onyango of Egreton University, and Matt Utterback of Oberlin College and Central European University.

Rex Mercury is a system of SMS relays from bitcoin to payment processors, and its purpose, Clurman told The Tech, is to ensure that people can use bitcoin wherever Internet is available. While moving cash between countries may entail unnecessary costs, delays, and uncertainties, he said, “bitcoin enables payments to be boundless.”

The “evangelism award,” for projects that spread bitcoin technology to new users, was given to the team of MIT computational biology PhD student Nezar Abdennur, Boston University computer science PhD student Ethan Heilman, and Adam Tavares, a graduate of Bridgewater State College. Their project, PotLucky, is designed to allow secure off-blockchain transactions and encourage the usage of bitcoin by making it easy for users to pool their bitcoin for joint purposes. “Our goal was to find a way to make bitcoin more usable trust scenario,” said Abdennur in an email to The Tech.

In another instance of the cryptocurrency’s expansion on campus, the MIT Coop at Kendall announced in late August that it would handle bitcoin as payment for its products.

MIT Coop accepts bitcoin

In an interview with The Tech, Miguel Suarez, general manager of the MIT Coop, confirmed that the Kendall location is currently accepting bitcoin as payment. BitPay, a bitcoin payment processor, offered to provide the Coop with the ability to receive bitcoin from students using an app that can be accessed on any smartphone. The new method of payments aims to help eliminate credit card transaction fees.