Professors develop new cryptocurrency


Photo courtesy of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Pramod Viswanath, electrical and computer engineering professor. Along with Professor Andrew Miller, Viswanath is developing a new cryptocurrency known as Unit-E.

By Sana Khadilkar, Staff writer

Distributed Technologies Research, a foundation including University professors Pramod Viswanath and Andrew Miller of electrical and computer engineering,  is developing a new cryptocurrency called Unit-E.

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency that is not regulated by a central institution, such as a bank. Cryptocurrency uses blockchain, which records the transactions using cryptography.

“We are really interested in developing a really scalable distributed trust platform, which is what the blockchain technology is. Cryptocurrencies are simply our first project, a concrete application to focus the engineering effort on,” Viswanath said in an email.

UI professors develop cryptocurrency to rival Bitcoin

Could Unit-E be the next Bitcoin?

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A total of thirteen professors are part of DTR and are from a variety of universities, including MIT, University of Washington and the University of Illinois.

“Cryptocurrencies are fascinating — money is of course an integral part of our society, and decentralized cryptocurrencies have the potential to make money more fair, resilient and less reliant on institutions,” Miller said in an email. “This project grew out of a series of research projects on a range of different technical aspects — improving their performance, improving their security and privacy and enabling them to scale to larger networks.”

This new cryptocurrency is being designed to be more advanced than Bitcoin, which was the first and most popular cryptocurrency, created in 2009.

“Currently blockchains are really really slow (Bitcoin can handle five transactions per seconds and takes hours to confirm a transaction). In contrast, the underlying network can support far superior throughputs (say 10K transactions per second) and latency (say one second),” Viswanath said.

Throughput is the number of transactions processed through a system in a specific time period, and latency is how much time it takes for data to transfer from one destination to another, according to “Decentralized Payment Systems: Principles and Design.”

“One main difference with Bitcoin is avoiding the use of Proof-of-Work, which is expensive in terms of power consumption, and difficult to replicate in a new currency,” Miller said. “Instead, Unit-E is based on a form of Proof-of-Stake, where instead of performing computational work, you place virtual currency in deposit — it only involves shuffling virtual accounts, rather than actual energy consumption.”

DTR aims for Unit-E to be quicker and more efficient than Bitcoin currently is. They anticipate releasing Unit-E and public testing software in the last quarter of the year,” Miller said.

According to Miller, development and research for Unit-E begin with asking questions about how to achieve efficiency goals while understanding that cryptocurrencies have physical constraints. DTR works with engineers to make sure their models will be able to physically work, so the development and testing process for Unit-E is long, Miller said.

“Given the emphasis on security, the fact that attacks on cryptocurrencies are commonplace and can be easily monetized, it’s important to put the time and planning into testing and security auditing,” Miller said.

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