StealthEX Interview With Larry Pang, Head Of Business Development At IoTeX

StealthEX Interview With Larry Pang, Head Of Business Development At IoTeX

By StealthEX | StealthEX Blog | 16 Feb 2021


IoTeX combines blockchain, trusted hardware and edge computing to realize the full potential of IoT. Find out more about IoTeX Coin.

Hello, everyone, I’m Maria Carola, the CMO of StealthEX. Today, we’re joined by Larry from IoTeX. We’re going to talk about basics, the future, and discuss privacy, the main trends, what awaits us, probably make predictions. Please, introduce yourself.

I’m Larry, the Head of Business Development at IoTeX. I joined IoTeX 3 years ago. My goal today is to make everyone have a better understanding of blockchain and IoT. A lot of the craze has been around DeFi. We saw a renaissance in DeFi over 2020. But I want to expand people’s imagination of IoT, not just to use blockchain to fix the problems of IoT, which are more around the security but also using IoT to solve problems of blockchain, which are the fact that we don’t have real-world information that we can build new economies on top of. 

You mentioned IoT, which is the Internet of Things. Can you explain it?

So, let’s start with things. We’re talking about smart connected devices that are pulling data from the real world and delivering it to apps to make our lives better. It stretches across things like smart homes, smart cities, agriculture, even space in the future. Those things that are orbiting around our world called satellites are connected to our world in different ways. The Internet part is the connection. When these things are connected not only to humans but to other machines, we’re going to see a lot of automation happen. Now, IoT is already impacting our lives in different ways. Devices give us things, and humans react and we make use of that value.

In the future, machines are going to be intelligent. They will have their AI, be programmed with goals that they know how to solve, and they’re going to transact with other machines and even humans to solve those goals. While we get to that distant point where we’re talking about machines having intelligence, we also have to consider the security, privacy, and trust issues that come along with that. We’re going to be riding in robot taxis, that our life depends on their ability to run safely. 

These are all parts of IoT. We’re trying to use blockchain to not only enable more security and trust in IoT but use it to expand the capabilities of blockchain and create a new decentralized economy using blockchain and IoT.

How does IoTeX solve these problems and what do you do to make it all happen? 

IoTeX is a smart contract platform, we’re a layer one blockchain platform. We designed everything from scratch in 2017 and designed it to be tailor-fit to IoT. What that means from a blockchain level is that you have to have a very fast consensus. In IoT, we’re moving data around so quickly, you need to have a mechanism to make sure transactions don’t need 6 confirmations like BTC. Our blockchain is one of the fastest and most reliable in the industry. We’ve done 5 second block times with instant finality. It’s good for decentralized exchanges that are running on IoTeX, but it’s also perfect for the future of IoT. 

The other thing on top of blockchain is that it’s not going to solve everything. You have to layer on additional technologies on top of blockchain to get benefits. We consider it to be the root of trust in the network. Another important one is decentralized identity, which is the root of self-sovereignty in our network. We want every user and every device in the IoTeX network or that’s powered by the IoTeX network to own the information.

We have a goal for 2021. We want to deliver ownership and control of devices, as well as the value and the data that they generate. When we think about all the data from our devices, they’re owned by centralized cloud providers that deliver us services. But now we’re starting to see the impacts of dirty things they’ve been doing behind the scenes with our data. And I feel like we’re at a tipping point. 

We have a blockchain with decentralized identity and the last real piece is around using a different type of hardware. It’s secure hardware, like the chips in your Ledger device that protect your private keys, the chips in your phone that manage your face ID and fingerprints. These are all examples of secure hardware that is different from your traditional hardware in the sense that it protects the integrity and the confidentiality of all your information. We consider it to be tamper-proof hardware, and a blockchain is a tamper-proof software. The combination of these two elements linked by this DID mechanism is how we enable users to own their devices and for devices to be trusted in the IoTeX network.

The main question is privacy. Do you consider the privacy of data the core question and issue that needs to be solved in this progress?

Yes and no. Privacy is an indirect benefit. What we’re focused on is not necessarily privacy only. It’s about ownership. Once you own your information, one of the things you can do with it is to keep it private. It’s exclusive ownership. You are the only one with that information. And it’s your keys, your fund’s concept that BTC has made popular, except in this sense, it’s your keys, your funds, your data as well. With that data, if you have BTC, you can choose not to do anything with that and you can choose not to tell anyone you have it. But also the same case with what you want to do with your information. 

In 2020, we launched the first camera called Ucam. It’s a home security camera that we partnered with a large security camera manufacturer. It’s selling on Amazon with thousands of users worldwide now. It is giving people the first experience of fully controlling their data. 

These devices are going to generate valuable data. And whether that’s just donating to a research institution or selling your information outright to an enterprise or a startup, that’s another option about what you can do with your data. But that last piece we kind of call this concept DeFi IoT, where the data from the IoT is going to fuel a lot of decentralized finance use cases around buying, selling, trading. It just so happens that the videos from your home are not great candidates to be sold to others. 

This camera looks awesome. And that’s huge, considering that it’s not obvious for many people. It’s something that we are so used to. For example, the security cameras in homes that you don’t think about connecting them to the blockchain. Many people are still not used to thinking of blockchain not only as a kind of a thing that crypto works on but also this data structure that can help in many ways. How do you promote this idea? 

Many peculiar anecdotes are about the way that society recognizes issues and chooses to deal with it. This time last year, we were at CES, and we got a great start to our Ucam project because we got an innovation award for cybersecurity and personal privacy. This was also at the time where the US mainstream media was being flooded with stories about the guy who hacked into an Amazon ring camera and was talking to their kids and pretending to be Santa Claus. We went into CES thinking everyone’s going to want a privacy camera because it’s all over the news. 

Then I started to think back. This is not the first instance where a computer or smart device was hacked. This happened for the past decade without anyone batting an eye. And that continued throughout 2020 and some confluence of COVID, misinformation, and elections. Now, we’re starting to see the tipping point where people are migrating over to privacy solutions, starting with this whole WhatsApp to Telegram and Signal mass migration. Signal got 20 million new users over the past month. People are recognizing that even though Facebook and other big tech companies are marketing private messengers, how can we trust that? Signal is valuable now because there’s not a big tech company behind it. They don’t have to just believe the claims that they’ve seen. They finally have an alternative. That’s where that migration from private messengers is happening in real-time.

Maybe it’s not yet time where everyone will acknowledge that they want other things to be private. But the next natural thought process is going to be: “OK. What are all the other sensitive things that the big tech touches today?” My private messages are the first thing that people think about, maybe next are their finances. But it’s inevitable that the devices that capture what we do at home, capture our conversations at home. All of these things will need to be privatized. It’s a big wind at our backs that people are starting to recognize this. Now I think Ucam, even though it was launched last year, is going to have a bigger year because people are ready for it.

Privacy was a trend a couple of years ago when everybody was talking about privacy. But it’s true that people who were consumers of products, apps, were not thinking in this direction yet. It’s interesting how this year everything shaped this way.

What do you think was the main trigger for this privacy movement? Will it continue further and will still be a trend now?

We talk to a lot of our customers worldwide. Interestingly, people give us different answers based on where they’re from. But the common denominator of the thread that connects them is that there’s a lack of trust in some capacity there. People don’t just search for privacy. If the people they were trying to keep things private from were trustworthy, then what’s the reason for privacy if there’s full trust in the institutions or the services, rather than that delivered to you. That’s why this blockchain and decentralized aspect, the services are not changing, but the mechanisms that deliver these services are. People should understand that, you know, these big tech companies are not doing anything wrong. They’re just driving value to their shareholders and trying to skirt regulations. But when there is an alternative, meaning people don’t trust those institutions anymore, then they’re going to start to seek areas where they can rebuild some of that trust, at least subjectively. Some people will never come to our world. 

But the younger generation and anyone with an engineering background, are going to understand that now there’s an alternative that they can switch to. The last thing I’ll say is along with the trust thing, it is subjective. In some countries, corporations are the last of people’s worries. They want trust from the governments and their public institutions. That’s a different issue. It’s interesting to see how privacy is wrapping the entire world but in different ways. I have a US minded centric mindset because I live here. It reminds you that some of the worries that you deal with from a convenience perspective are the least of the worries to other people that are being surveilled by the institutions that are assigned to protect them. What we’re building applies to the consumer space to sell devices. But the technology that backs it’s going to provide a lot of trust around the world.

You’re right that people in different parts of the world have their own issues. Probably, we can consider ourselves privileged because we don’t want somebody looking at our messages and selling our data. But there are bigger problems than that. 

But coming back to IoTeX. You said that scalability is one of the things that you’re working on. What is this path and how does this develop?

Scalability is interesting for us. We do a lot of things on layer two, but unconventionally. We’ve designed our layer one, our blockchain to be fast. Again, very fast consensus and a lot of transactions per second that we’ve reached 10 million transactions in the network. As far as scalability goes, we’re building on top of this fast blockchain. We use that concept of secure hardware to outsource a computation to trusted resources. There is much to explain. There’s a concept called secure hardware where you process things in a trusted zone to things that are embedded into your Ledger wallets and your phones and manage your face ID and fingerprints. That’s all an isolated part of your phone, it’s like a black box. Everything you do there is trustworthy. That’s why you trust your phone to hold your private keys for any crypto wallet app you use. You’re putting your private key in there, and it’s being stored in this isolated zone that nobody can crack.

The problem is that all of that is closed. You can’t program on top of these secure elements or secure hardware mechanisms. We are building an OS that opens that up and allows people to place their private data in there with algorithms and run that process in a trusted fashion is an unbiased third party. That is the perfect mechanism to scale blockchains because blockchain is good to have a nice Ledger and traceability of everything that went on in the chain. But it doesn’t necessarily have to execute all of the commands. It can outsource the execution of those commands to other trusted mechanisms. Many people think about layer two as one blockchain outsourcing computation to another blockchain. It can also be a blockchain outsourcing computation to a verifiable and trusted robot or a device that does something for you. But this method of using secure hardware as a kind of layer two mechanism doesn’t just provide scalability. It also provides privacy. Running an outsourcing computation is confidential and data integrity respecting robots or machines allows you to outsource the transactions, but also outsource the privacy to mechanisms that are better at it. Blockchain is not good for privacy. You have to layer on additional technologies on top of that. 

That’s what we did with Ucam. We’re not running any of the processing on IoT smart contracts. The identity is registered to IoTeX blockchain and blockchain is one that orchestrates the device to do things. But it’s not the one that will do everything. In 2021, you’re going to see people combining other technologies with blockchain to expand the capabilities of it. But that secure hardware thing that I’m talking about, there are many angles to that. That’s why IoTeX is focused on IoT because opportunities are not just about making blockchain better but also about making the IoTeX better as well.

What are you planning on more devices for, how are you planning on this expansion and blockchain technology merging with IoT? What about the plans of IoTeX? 

We’re about to release our 2021 roadmap, which we’ve been working on for a while. We have this vision. The IoTeX community knows our vision is to empower not just the Internet of Things, but what we call the Internet of Trusted Things. This is embedding guaranteed trust into the IoT that we know today. But that’s still a very distant future. Where the machines and all the users and all the algorithms we interact with daily are verifiable and trustworthy. But being methodical and understanding that this is not going to be an overnight thing requires us to think about how we go back and design the step by step phases and components and capabilities that will reach this future You can think about this IoTT concept as trusted economies where humans and machines are interacting. But that future is coming in this decade or at least is going to start to sprout in this decade.

Last year, we focused on cell sovereign devices. Trusted devices are the first step in our journey to that IoTT, decentralized identity, where devices and people can talk to each other, where users can own these devices as well as the data that they generate. We plan to bring more devices like Ucam to market. But the next step is about trusted data. Ucam is great because it will deliver services and we’ll deliver data directly to its owner. This device is already serving its owner. The next step is to use devices where one device can serve multiple people in a trusted fashion, both from a data and service perspective. Our next big project is all about this device right here. It’s called Pebble Tracker.

It’s an asset tracking device. And it has a built-In secure element. All of the data that’s captured by this device is signed at the moment it’s generated and made available to blockchain smart contracts. It does geometrics like GPS location, temperature, humidity, air pressure, air quality as an accelerometer, a gyroscope for motion and shock, and has a light sensor. It’s jam-packed with all of the data that you can want for any supply chain, transportation, logistics, etc. use case. It has that secure element where you’re signing the information. It makes it verifiable to anyone even outside of the device owner himself. When we think about these supply chain scenarios, you have all of these different parties. Some of them are collaborators, others are competitors. Going back to that issue about where our world lacks trust today, our supply chain is one of them. There are many elements in the supply chain. But figuring out who is at fault for what and where things are along this global scale is important.

Now, there’s a big gap in trust because there are service providers that are hired by institutions. We see stories about them being corrupt and not treating our data with respect. Replacing them with unbiased, trusted robot workers, that can deliver you the same results is the next phase. Evolving from trusted devices to trusted data from trusted devices. This is a big initiative that we’re getting started this quarter. We have a lot of great builders doing things like using verifiable data to secure the supply chain, but even using verifiable data to do things like training machine learning algorithms, because they have an issue where the data that they’re taking in needs to be trustworthy and reliable.

The next thing for IoTeX this year is about what we can do with verifiable data from verifiable devices. We’re entering a place where machines cannot only verifiably deliver data to many people, but also machines can verifiably deliver services to other people as well. That’s a distant 2021 goal. 

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There is a question from the community that fits into this story that you’ve told about the verifiable data on the new device that you’re working on. But this is a B2B solution.

Someone on Twitter asks whether you are going to have enterprise-level partnerships this year and whether there’s going to be something big from the point of business development.

Yes. The reason why I’m so confident is because it’s already an enterprise partnership. Both of these are already enterprise partnerships. Tenvis is our partner for the security camera. It’s been around since 2005, it sold millions of cameras to the government, retail, consumer, enterprise. Bringing a device to market alongside the enterprise was a direct partnership.

There are distribution and marketing partnerships with them after the fact. It’s still considered a 10 best product that’s powered by IoT. We launched this on Amazon in September, but we started that work one year ago. The same thing applies to Pebble. Pebble is the partnership between IoTeX and one of the world’s largest chip manufacturers Nordic Semiconductor. We worked with them to design this board and merge our open source libraries to allow for this open-source development experience on top of this OS. This is not necessarily going to be a consumer product. 

But IoTeX has many different angles that we’re tackling. We are part of a lot of professional organizations. We’re the co-chairs of the IOC’s Blockchain Working Group. IOC is composed of 400 of the largest IoT organizations in the world. Our goal with that is to introduce verifiable data to people that are looking for it. If you told a regular consumer that this device would give him verifiable data vs. non-verifiable data, they’re going to think, why do they need to care if it’s verifiable? Are they going to pay extra for the verifiability? Maybe it’s going to be a value-added service today, but it’s more likely going to be a sudden shift in a standard driven by regulation, driven by compliance. 

But that’s already happening in the enterprise space. It’s not any like a government body enforcing these regulations or compliance. They’re self-enforcing the regulation of compliance because if they make a misstep in trusting someone that they shouldn’t, that affects their bottom line.

Corporations care mostly about money. In that respect, how do you fit technology to make their world operate better? We talked to a large project that’s working on shipping parts that are worth 20 million dollars from one place to another. He mentioned that there are certain accelerations where you have to ship these components under a certain threshold of acceleration, if your package is open, has to be under a certain light threshold. This is the data provider for those situations. But we’re going to start to see people extend this verifiable data into verifiable insights and verifiable actions from those insights.

If you had a Pebble Tracker, and it’s reading your GPS location at all times. Those coordinates are useful. But what you want or the insights from that coordinates at this point, based on my GPS coordinates, how far I’m from the next checkpoint.

That can help to automate many things. If you can present information in a verifiable and selective privacy-preserving way, then that can streamline the operations of any supply chain use case. You can give a heads up without disclosing the raw details. You can trigger different smart contracts that can settle payments, enforce service level agreements. The most obvious use case for Pebble is COVID tracking. We’re talking about vaccine tracking because you need to have it under a certain temperature. You can’t have too much vibration on the package, even knowing that the package is opened, you can have the light sensor, and the GPS can tell you where it is. You should think about these devices as verifiable insights generators. It’s our goal to work with enterprises and companies to figure out what we can do with this data. We’ll see how it all turns out.

When you were talking, I was thinking about the ways that it can be interesting for the consumers. Another idea is when you want to talk about tracking, it’s a control. Like knowing where your kid is. This data is only shared with certain people. There might be not only a B2B solution but also to the client too. This might be interesting for a wider audience.

Coming back to the cameras. You launched them on Amazon, and now they’re sold there. How do people find it? What are the main concerns of the people who buy them? There are thousands of cameras on Amazon, and people must search for them specifically because this is a camera that not only films but also provides data and privacy. How do people find it and what is the target audience of your product?

You know, there was a lesson for us. We launched this thing on Amazon, and Tenvis has much experience selling there. But Amazon is a place where people know what they’re looking for. When they type in a security camera into Amazon, they’re not necessarily looking for a private security camera because they don’t know it exists. On Amazon, we tagged it with a pet camera and security camera because you have to capture their interest in what they’re looking for and then sell them in the future. But we’re working to start a lot of new channels. One of them we launched in December. It’s called Touch of Modern. It’s a bunch of users who look for the latest tech products on this site. We found great success on that channel. 

It’s indicative of the quality of the product that we sold to people that probably never heard about blockchain before. Our ratings on Amazon, we have over 110-120 4.5 star ratings. But once we start to hit these channels, I don’t think it is going to blow up the sales to a point. But what we’re trying to do with this camera is just build our early adopter audience of people that share the same vision as us. And educating people about it first vs. giving them the surprise that this is a privacy camera after the fact is important to us. Applying that philosophy, we’re going to see some great success with Ucam because not only are consumers demanding it this year but also we have a refreshed focus to bring it to the privacy-conscious people.

Do you think this trend of combining everyday use technology with blockchain will continue and more people will be ready to use it? Because I think about older generations who use devices. But they don’t think that blockchain exists and what it’s for and why BTC is on the news. 

I had a fun time explaining BTC to my grandparents. But they did not get it. How will this transition be possible? What media coverage or general education or issues do we need for mass adoption?

I’ll show this conversation to my parents. They were interested to know what was going on in the space. And I said my company was working on cameras and IoT devices to protect privacy. I told them about one thing that sparked their eyes. As immigrants, my parents aren’t great investors. From an investment perspective, from a DeFi perspective, telling them that you can go to a Goldman Sachs owned company called Circle and deposit your cash, get cash equivalents called USDC, and earn 8% on that.

It was mind-blowing to them. And I was like, OK, did you hear about this other thing? This concept of you can get 20x your returns or more by using financial products. I think this is what’s going to be attractive to the older generation that has money and doesn’t know how to invest it. It’s not necessarily you have to go yield farming for this 8%. It’s just the most basic foundational part of DeFi is lock your fiat, get stablecoins and stake them, and you get recurring revenues. You can just stake USDC. You don’t have to worry about all that. 

For the younger generation, it’s the opposite. They don’t care about 8% annualized returns. They’re thinking about how they’re going to interact with people in the future and how the world is going to look. 

We talked a lot about the enterprise use case for Pebble. The most interesting metric here is the GPS location. Once you have a verifiable GPS location, then you’re going to see a lot of like Pokemon Go style games emerge. Even a restaurant, if they want to give you a happy hour discount, you can pay in crypto and allow it to be used in the restaurants based on your GPS location. Are you in my restaurant at this time? If yes, here’s your happy hour discount. This verifiable information is a way for people to prove they did something. Today, we’re pointing the finger and saying, you didn’t do that. You owe me money. But in our normal society, it’s going to be the ultimate benefit of owning your information.

Owning and controlling your data means you don’t have to give up that data if you don’t want to. But there are going to be new opportunities to voluntarily submit and opt into programs. These are all additive and consumer beneficial things. That’s just the GPS location. 

If we’re starting to talk about temperature and verifiable video, then maybe you don’t even need your GPS information. You can have object detection and it can be done securely. A lot of people say a word like price discovery mode for Bitcoin. I think we’re in use case discovery mode for verifiable information. And this is just like the DeFi renaissance was born out of the fact that people finally had a single version of the truth.

As far as crypto prices go, the oracles that brought this data to the network had a boom in 2020, but they only focused on crypto prices. Once we start to bring real-world data verifiable by anyone. That’s going to just be the roots or the foundation for new economies to sprout. We can’t comprehend what’s going to happen now. But step by step, our trusted devices offer verifiable data and verifiable services towards our path to the IoTT.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing? We saw DeFi, we saw privacy, and it’s all continuing, and it’s merging with something else and becoming something bigger. What else will be added to this flow this year?

I think the industry is calling for social tokens and social frameworks. Social is going to have a big year. I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention to all these like NMT sales, but they’re fascinating. Outside looking in, people are like, why is someone spending a quarter-million dollars on AI-generated art? But it’s about these subcommunities that are forming. You’re going to see many of them form around people and celebrities that the real world has never heard of before. And you’re starting to see this phenomenon across all social media platforms. TikTok started something interesting. It made everyone a creator and gave everyone a platform. You don’t need many followers to go viral. And a lot of people in the crypto scene are going to Clubhouse. It’s like a drop-in audio room where you can go in, and you’re being dropped into a live podcast with celebrities in subcommunities. I was in a sub chat with the VP of Design at Twitter. I’m not a designer, but it was an interesting conversation. But when he dropped into that room, people were shocked. And we didn’t have that. It’s always been like, who’s on the media, who’s on the headlines? But people are going to be forming their subcommunities around this concept. And it’s going to be powered by blockchain. Crypto and blockchain are tools in this ultimate goal, but it has all the right components to it. Starting with social and then the subcommunities are going to be sprouting within IoT. It’s going to be finance, social, and everything surrounding our smart devices. These may be individual paths, but when they merge, we’ll need to add social to that too. Because verifiable data from our devices to generate NFT  that can serve as a reputation in a subcommunity and can even be sold financially. We just talked about all these trends in one use case that is going to define where our decades heading. 

This is an unusual thought. This is an interesting progression because social is a big part of our life. One day it’s going to become this next big thing.

Now I’m going to ask you whether you have some last words for everybody.

Shamelessly plug our product. You can buy Ucam right now. It’s a great camera. I have 3 of them set up in my home. You don’t have to worry about them looking at your data. For all the developers out there, I think this is a great subcommunity of IoT that we’re building. It’s not just in the blockchain space. IoTeX has big plans for this year. Stay tuned with the progress. It’s easy to follow our project because we have real products to show for it. We look forward to dropping more information and products in 2021, but always enjoy the chat and looking forward to maybe stepping back on later this year.

Thank you, Larry. Now, we’re wrapping up this Interview. And we’re going to drop the links to the IoTeX products.

Thanks for reading and do not miss the full video of the interview with Larry Pang on our YouTube channel.

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