FOAM Location Update


#1

This post is to serve as a comprehensive update on the FOAM Location progress and direction of the project. Over the past months we have been heads down prioritized on building, designing and testing the architecture of new FOAM radio hardware and software, described below. Further we have been focusing on recruitment and team growth, adding an additional electrical engineer, two software engineers, a business strategy position as well as expert academic consultants in time synchronization and localization as well as leading programmers in FPGA’s, which are now a part of the new Zone Anchor prototype. With this updated design, outdoor testing has begun at our New Lab headquarters along side meetings with a number of companies about participation in pilot projects across the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Our previous demo at ETH New York featured an end-to-end blockchain enabled radio system, which included time synchronization over proto-zone anchors, local Tendermint consensus based blockchain logs and a plasma implementation for connectivity to the Ethereum root chain.

The goal of this end-to-end prototype was to demonstrate the core architecture of the protocol by processing and validating a Presence Claim over radio and have Presence Claim data make its way securely from radio logs to Ethereum. This demo used commercial-off-the-shelf LoRa transceivers to articulate the design, where a time synchronization protocol is implemented. This demo focused on the end-to-end flow over localization because the resolution provided by off the shelf LoRa transceivers is not sufficient for the protocols needs. That said, localization is derived from time difference of arrival on the time stamps, which are in the Tendermint based logs in the demo. Localization needs to be computed and to do so in that setup would need to be done from those logs off-chain. From this demo, base work on the time sync protocol, tendermint consensus, scaling side chain solutions complete and will be iterated on. The next step we focused on was localization software and new hardware architecture.

From the end-to-end prototype, we have been designing the next version of a Zone Anchor that utilizes a Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) and a Software Defined Radio (SDR) for precision time-stamping and running localization algorithms on the board itself. This entails building custom printed circuit boards (PCB) with the components we want to utilize and include for computational and cryptographic capabilities beyond a single off the shelf LoRa radio.


FOAM custom LoRa enabled printed PCB

The current FOAM hardware (Zone Anchor) consists of a RF transceiver that’s capable of communicating with other anchors, as well as localizing simple devices that utilize the LoRa protocol (Location Customer). It has the capacity to communicate over LoRa as well as as a backhaul (WiFi, Ethernet, 5G etc). It speaks a custom protocol between anchors that is implemented on a CPU with additional cryptographic primitives on an FPGA. The same FPGA also runs custom filtering and localization algorithms on the pure radio signal to enable localization and time-stamping that’s beyond the in-built capabilities of the LoRa chip. Together, Zone Anchors form a FOAM hybrid mesh network.

FOAM Location is designed as a protocol to provide a specific service on fault tolerant time synchronization and secure location verification. As we move into the next decade a problem plaguing all technological endeavors, in particular blockchain scaling based ones, is the end of Moore’s Law. The long-held notion that the processing power of computers increases exponentially every couple of years has hit its limit. On this topic professor emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley, David A. Patterson states:

It’s conventional wisdom among computer architects that the only thing we haven’t tried is domain-specific architectures. That idea is relatively simple: It’s that you design a computer that does one domain really well, and you don’t worry about the other domains. If we do that, we can get giant improvements.

The Zone Anchor is a domain specific architecture (DSA) that aims to be a fully open-source software and hardware platform for high-precision localization of radio packets. By focusing on this fundamental use case the result is a new alternative value add service to GPS for location verification, a need many are increasingly becoming aware of, “Ghost ships, crop circles, and soft gold: A GPS mystery in Shanghai ”. The architecture builds on a novel solution of LoRa hardware and SDR on top of FPGAs with a System on Chip running Linux. The reason for a DSA is more than just the bandwidth and computational requirements for the signal processing. We’re building a completely open-source software and hardware solution in order to radically be able to build out a network of devices that is truly independent of any specific vendor. The blockchain and localization software continue to be radio agnostic with the option of exploring alternative to LoRa. This FOAM Software defined radio additionally fits into the FOAM stack for advanced front end and dashboard capabilities.


Overall FOAM Location System Architecture

As the LoRa radio itself has only been on the market for about as long as Ethereum has been live there have been recent advances in microprocessing that further enable a Domain Specific Architecture for FOAM Location. For many years, engineers and researchers have used FPGAs to build prototypes that were very expensive and required high power consumption. Advances in FPGA technology have made them a viable option for making low-cost, low-power consumption, high-performance systems and tiny FPGAs are growing in popularity. FPGAs are hardware devices that allow reconfiguration of their internal logic gates which enables one to trade off general computation capabilities for increased performance on specific workloads

Writing FPGA code is a lot more challenging than writing software. FPGA code is developed by writing program-like text in a special kind of language, generically called a "register transfer language" (or RTL). As we have documented previously, FOAM’s Ethereum development stack was developed in house to make use of advanced safety and security features offered by modern functional programming languages like Haskell and PureScript. Keeping with our commitment to Functional Programming languages and philosophies we are programming our FPGAs in a language called Clash. Clash is a functional hardware description language that borrows both its syntax and semantics from the functional programming language Haskell. It provides a familiar structural design approach to both combinational and synchronous sequential circuits. Clash is built on Haskell which provides an excellent foundation for well-typed code. Together with Clash's standard library it is easy to build scalable and reusable hardware designs. We are excited to be working directly with the authors of this language on the FOAM implementation.

Another exciting development FOAM Location will utilize is the maturity of RISC-V and the rise of open-source hardware computing.

The instruction set architecture (ISA) of microprocessors is currently owned by Intel and Arm, which are proprietary and have heavy licensing fees for use in designs. In the IoT and microprocessor space, ARM dominates the market. The past year has seen a boom in chips made using an open source ISA called RISC-V, available to anyone, anywhere, and is free. Companies such as Google and Samsung are part of the RISC-V foundation and NVIDIA and Alibaba have started to roll out products based on this open source architecture this year.

The RISC-V ISA allows us to start with a clean slate and optimize designs for new workloads, ushering in a new era of silicon design and processor innovation through open standard collaboration. This open source approach to silicon has many benefits. The RISC-V Foundation writes:

  1. Unlocks architecture and enables innovation since RISC-V is a layered and extensible ISA, companies can easily implement the minimal instruction set, well defined extensions and custom extensions to create custom processors for these new and innovative workloads

  2. Reduces risk and investment via leverage of established and common IP building blocks with a growing set of shared tools and development resources with an engaged development community.

  3. Creates opportunities to create thousands of possible custom processors as implementation is not defined at the ISA level, but rather by the composition of the SoC and other design attributes. It’s possible to go big, small, powerful, or lightweight.

  4. Accelerates time to market through collaboration and open source IP reuse , this not only reduces development expense, but accelerates time to market.

FOAM Zone Anchors can take advantage of these advances for open source and inexpensive hardware. Our current design uses an ARM core but the FOAM Location software is portable across hardware development kits, towards a full custom PCB of the needed components.


MCCI Catena 4710 – LoRa based Feather-compatible FPGA board with RISC-V Core

Most recently we have been hacking on and porting our software to the MCCI Catena 4710, LoRa based FPGA board with a RISC-V core.

Web 3 and Cryptography

Smart contracts, cryptography and interoperability with web 3 are paramount to FOAM Location. The previously demonstrated radio protocol and its implementation as a blockchain application on Ethereum + Plasma. That demo made use of a Plasma side-chain backed by Tendermint and built using the Cosmos SDK. The demo and the ensuing discussions led us to the opinion that while the Tendermint/Cosmos offerings are promising, both the community and FOAM would greatly benefit from a framework that allowed for the development of such applications in Haskell. There are many reasons for this, but we mainly would point to the kinds of value in terms of safety and security that our Ethereum stack adds to the Etheruem developer ecosystem. Additionally, it would enable FOAM to continue to develop FOAM Location on Tendermint with the tools and languages that we excel with.

This work is on going and on track to be complete by the end of this year.

In parallel, web3 solutions are accelerating and the FOAM developer team is deeply integrated into conversations and research with the COSMOS team on the IBC protocol, recently highlighted at the Berlin Full Node meetup A Chain Reaction: Launching an Interchain Interoperability Standard, as well as the Plasma Group on Optimistic Rollups and ZK-Rollups (Optimistic vs. ZK Rollup: Deep Dive) which provide security and scalability solutions as the next stage of Plasma based research that fit into our ABCI architecture and will allow further optimization and privacy around generating, storing and revealing presence claims. We strongly believe in the emerging web3 smart contract ecosystem and FOAM Location is built from the ground up for interoperability. With additional cryptographic primitives on an FPGA integrations and signing messages to the blockchain fast and securely are at the top of mind when designing the protocol. Presence Claims are core to the protocol and privacy preserving features are a top priority and this topic continues to get mainstream attention, “Foursquare CEO calls on Congress to regulate the location data industry / New York City to Consider Banning Sale of Cellphone Location Data


Waterfall Display of time-stamped de-chirped bursts of LoRa signal trains

We are extremely confident and excited in our new Zone Anchor hardware architecture and custom software defined radio. Advanced facilities at our New Lab headquarter provide oscilloscopes, RF equipment and support for product design and pilots we are leveraging. Through extensive design iterations and measurements for decoding LoRa signals, firmware development and thorough hardware evaluation, the time synchronization and localization algorithms are ready to move out of the lab and to field testing, which we have begun within the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Subsequent posts will detail this testing effort and results, as well as share on the Zone Anchor enclosure design and mounting.


#2

extremely exciting!!


#3

wow, very solid progress. i really like the fundamental decisions made regarding OS hardware in the stack


#4

Thank you for the detailed update. You hit a couple of key points that I would like to underline:

  1. Additional resources after establishing the demo worked, are a prudent and necessary expense. Bringing in an EE, and additional software engineers is great and I’m glad to see you made that decision.

  2. Your commitment to FP, and the strengths that a Functional mindset brings is also, incredibly important. Crypto and blockchain are especially unforgiving to errors and bugs, and FP removes a whole class of errors that can effect production applications. I believe that your focus on making the tooling you need will pay off handsomely in increased efficiency and reduced rework, and errors.

  3. That being said, your securing the assistance of the Clash developer is fantastic, it is true that FPGA’s are a whole different category of skills, and I truly believe, your use of a Functional basis for the FPGA design, will deliver here!

  4. The selection of RISC-V also is important to the next stage of general purpose computing. Intel has failed the industry with numerous exploitable flaws in their race to Ghz dominance, and we are still, even today coming to term with things such as Spectre, Meltdown etc that are causing continued degradation in legacy hardware (and today’s machine) due to the patches that Intel is pushing to “fix” the microcode. In some cases the performance hit is so severe that Admins and Developers such as Linus Torvalds are have declared them garbage. This is an insane state of affairs and I’m amazed that there has not been a class action suit to recall the effected chips. I understand fully this is proposition that could cost Intel Billions of dollars, and cause additional costs probably on par with the Y2K remediation.

  5. The web3 ecosystem is incredibly important, and I hope that we can avoid any missteps such as the opensea protocol mismatch we see with the Signal tokens. (and fingers crossed we can address that in the near future as there are some very nice and well placed Signals that have set the flag in the ground and accrued a significant time bonus)

Leveraging existing and proven platforms will enhance synergy, and provide onramps to FOAM. I’m thinking of Uniswap, Compound, and the new DAI (which will support multiple collateral with a base of alt-tokens) which are becoming the tinker-toy and lego building blocks for some incredible services. Uniswap is a simple and well thought solution to the issue of centralized, and controlled exchanges, which we have seen repeatedly are hacked, exit scammed, and really are not what Blockchains were invented to address. Through such a simple idea, these liquidity pools provide frictionless access to liquidity, and do it in a way that incentivizes swaps that are at the true market rate for the tokens.

FOAM has already seen competitors such as Platin, fall by the wayside. " For things to survive, they necessarily need to fare well in the risk dimension, that is be good at not dying, surviving, that type of thing." I see the recent announcement as the ground work required to build our future success. We also must keep our eyes on building a platform that incentivizes the effort and allocation of capital to build the platform that was described in the whitepaper.

Apple and Steve Jobs considered spending $2 Billion dollars to build a wifi network across America that would have powered the first iPhone / iTouch. It was not done because Jobs could not justify that expense. FOAM will require significant capital allocation, and we must align the rewards correctly to get these Zone Anchors deployed. It is a Chicken and Egg problem, the dApps will only come when the infrastructure is in place. The users will only use the dApps when they exist. There are significant opportunities for significant disruption to established and legacy applications that will be rendered useless when FOAM’s ecosystem is deployable; this disruption will reward the early adopters and first movers.

It is very important to realize a balance in FOAM’s ecosystem. Favoring one aspect over another risks crippling FOAM and preventing a harmonious and virtuous emergent cycle for the FOAM token. It is only with a true synergy that we will see FOAM become an engine to generate value for all the stakeholders.

Depending on where you are today, consider your timeframe. We are weathering a down-cycle alt-season. Projects such as FOAM that are building a product, platform and ecosystem will participate in the upswing when alts are back in favor. dPOL is not just a neat trick, it will enable applications that will be needed.


#5

Hi all, Happy 2020! We are very excited to continue sharing updates on the FOAM Location progress. The above post outlines the architecture and design decisions around software designed radios. The first post in next series of updates will focus in more detail on the efforts in 2019 and testing results, followed by the current 2020 milestones and remaining work as well as more information on the blockchain stack being built to power FOAM Location.

While those posts are being worked on by our team, this brief update is to share the new FOAM Location Zone Anchor prototypes we are currently testing with.

Previously, we had been manually manufacturing and assembling enclosures, photograph below. Since, we have been working with the product realization team at the New Lab to 3D print and laser cut enclosures that are weatherproof and can be mounted outdoors for a prolonged period of time. This is necessary for the extensive outdoor testing. While we have done outdoor testing, to fulfill our goal of a test-net across the Brooklyn Navy Yard requires some design updates! Some of the new enclosures are still being printed as we update our zone anchors.

These images are of the previous Zone Anchor enclosure

Computer model of new weatherproof and mountable enclosure that can be 3D printed

The new Zone Anchor enclosure

We have five Zone Anchors currently installed throughout our facility running the past weeks, with test location customers requesting Presence Claims the results of which allow continuous improvement to the software.

The new Zone Anchor enclosures enable more permanent installation outdoors with a mountable and weatherproof design. The following posts will focus on the results and next milestones.


#6

boxes look great. do you think the 3d printing will be used in production enclosures or a more traditional plastic manufacturing process? i imagine 3d printing locally gives you way more control and you can iterate faster


#7

You are taking care to rollout the Zone Anchor hardware, I see that. While that is in process, can we get some sort of update on the fix for the Signal tokens that are NOT currently OpenSea compatible which means that they can’t be traded on platforms as easily as Crypto Kitties or ENS domain names?

OpenSea is decentralized marketplace for digital goods. The Zone Anchor hardware is one aspect of a functioning FOAM ecosystem. There must be a healthy and robust market for Signal tokens. Leveraging open and cross-community platforms such as OpenSea is appropriate in the labor and time saved, as well as supporting a secure platform for token exchanges that has many more resources dedicated to seeing that it is running and functional. Don’t reinvent the wheel, just make sure the Signal tokens can trade on Open Sea.

Since a huge part of the FOAM Signal tokens is that they were staked early on and that time accrual will weight the reward bonus for Zone Anchor’s; it is crucial that we preserve that Time stake for the early Signal investors. This was raised by the community in April 2019.

I commend you on the incredible progress on the hardware side of FOAM! Let’s just not lose sight of the other details that a healthy ecosystem requires.


#8

(Edit: I see the issue you are referring to, will see if can be addressed directly on OpenSea)
Thanks for your feedback, can you elaborate on what you mean that some Signals are not OpenSea compatible? The Signals are NFTs and all can currently be found on OpenSea. There is an issue with properly loading the image from IPFS that be be addressed. Adding image of their location placement is a great suggestion, may be possible for OpenSea to include as is. They can be found here:

We have enclosure designs to share for a production unit. The 3d printing locally is for faster build time for each enclosure and allows iterating on size and layout of components. That said, it will be an option to build/3d print your own enclosure.


#9

FOAM Signals need these featured metadata on OpenSea’s Platform to allow correct valuation and transfer of valuable Signals at market rates:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When

Of these Where and When are Critical! The specification for FOAM Signals states that they are valued based on their age (and staked FOAM tokens). Who is less important as the address holding the Token is shown. What should be the Signal’s radius and / or staked FOAM since this too is used in valuing a Signal.

Those purchasing Signals must understand which areas are covered by them geographically. While an image of the map would be Nice to have, we need immediately an integrated capability to extract the location data from a Signal token and that most properly must be displayed on the OpenSea platform.

Right now this information is opaque and there is no reason for anyone to auction or sell on OpenSea currently.

This work should be prioritized and if needed grants issued to accelerate the completion.

Once OpenSea support is fully enabled, a revenue stream could be enabled to support FOAM token liquidity with an official Store Front and the fees being paid into the Uniswap liquidity pool ala Synthetix.

A deep pool of liquidity enabling frictionless conversion between ETH and FOAM will enable users to exit the system in a cost effective manner and provide confidence to in FOAM’s ecosystem.

At this moment OpenSea is broke for FOAM and the features I describe must be enabled to promote a harmonious ecosystem going forward.


#10

Has any evaluation work been undertaken to determine how accurate a ground-based time of flight system like this performs in a real environment like a city? It would be helpful to see how accurate locations can be as it will really drive the types of applications FOAM can service. I have never seen anything better than hundreds of feet due to reflections even with a dense network of gateways.

I’m not interested in lab results or small locations as they are not indicative of real world deployments, reflections, interference, etc.


#11

The ICO for FOAM was pursued by investors that saw the FOAM white paper as an actionable path towards a worthy risk / reward payoff. The ICO thusly primed the pump to get us to dPOL and the Zone Anchors that are being prototyped currently.

While accuracy is a component of dPOL–the ability to interact with objects in 3D space with time opens up a whole range of possibilities and applications. For a first generation application which could be dog walking, pizza delivery or package confirmation, any of those would be served by the accuracy you confirmed.

I cannot discount either that with beam steering and phased arrays on the Zone Anchor, it may be possible to tune the accuracy to where the client is. The commercial decision to move FOAM forward has been made by the initial investors of the ICO and FOAM is in their hands. How it performs in the future is dependent on getting the FOAM ecosystem flowing.

Integrating with Uniswap early on was a key step for that FOAM ecosystem. We now see that the Uniswap defi exchange shows 99.9862 ETH + 737120.2027 FOAM in the liquidity pool for FOAM. This needs additional liquidity to allow larger transactions (currently 2 ETH is the limit you can swap without experiencing slippage) and this is something that should be considered as a short term goal to encourage that liquidity.

Full integration with OpenSea is another component that is required, as the FOAM Signals must be liquid to have a fair market price. The current value of a FOAM Signal is based on it’s ability to earn rewards for enabling the Zone Anchors, the market price is only as a discount to ALL of it’s future returns.

A FOAM Signal may also be dissolved for the original stake of FOAM. A liquid market for FOAM Signals will allow a fair value for the time appreciation to accrue for the early FOAM Signals as their market value is actually the FOAM stake + the Time Accrual. We must enable the market, and they must be able to participate in valuing those Signals, especially in areas that may not have any early FOAM Signals.


#12

I’m sorry, but this answer is absolutely meaningless. None of the applications you mentioned would be well serviced by a location technology that is inaccurate to hundreds of feet of standard deviation error. And the rest of the post is incoherent and off topic.

Are there any results to share? It has been quite some time since the ICO and it does not seem like an unreasonable question to ask.