First Internal Fund Call for Project Proposals on Distributed Ledger Technologies

 

Submissions open from May 31 to June 30, 2019 (24:00 UK time)

1. INTRO

Founded in 2016 as an interdepartmental centre supported by eight different departments and institutes at University College London, the UCL Centre for Blockchain Technologies (CBT) has grown to become the largest in the world by number of associates. Currently, the CBT’s community comprises of over 160 research and industry associates of qualified expertise and knowledge in distributed ledger technologies. More than two thirds of the associates are from non-UCL academic institutions and organizations. The centre focuses on technical, socio-economic and legal-policy research in distributed ledger technologies and counts more than 150 scientific publications.

The primary goal of the CBT is to promote the widespread adoption of distributed ledger technologies in our techno-socio-economic systems. In line with our mission, this is the first of a series of Calls for Research Proposals that will be launched in the next years in order to support and award our best community members with research grants on distributed ledger technologies.

This first Call for Research Project Proposals relates to six main areas of interest on the topic of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies. This Call will disburse a maximum of £200,000 to six proposals. Each proposal is eligible to receive fundings up to £33,333 of direct costs.

To learn more about the requirements for applying, what proposals are eligible, and what costs can be claimed please read the instructions below.

 

2. ELIGIBLE RESEARCH TOPICS

This Call aims to promote research on blockchain (or more broadly, distributed ledger) technologies around six different major areas that are of interest to the academic and industry communities from a technical, business or legal/regulatory point of view.

A. Smart contracts

Embedded in blockchains, smart contracts trigger certain actions according to input parameters. Their advantages — including transparency, immutability and autonomy — promise a revolution that will unify the information age to Industry 4.0.

Topics of interest with regard to smart contract include but are not limited to:

  • Algorithm and programming language of smart contracts;
  • Interface between legal language natural language and smart contract programming language;
  • Smart contracts for regulation;
  • Smart contract maintenance;
  • Smart contract virtual machine;
  • Smart contract verification and testing;
  • Smart contract development and runtime environments;
  • Smart contract fault tolerance;
  • Smart contract and tokenization.

B. Cryptocurrency market

To date, speculation still dominates the cryptocurrency market that are often affected by extraordinarily high volatility and low liquidity. The crypto market behaves differently than the conventional forex or equity markets. Researchers are invited to conduct studies revolving around the nascent cryptocurrency market. Both empirical and theoretical studies touching upon the following aspects are welcome:

  • Quantitative strategies applicable to the cryptocurrency market;
  • Investment behavior prevailing in the current cryptocurrency market;
  • Price dynamics, bubbles and anomalies of the cryptocurrency market;
  • Interplay between news, Internet rumours and the cryptocurrency market dynamics;
  • Cryptocurrency market structure;
  • Cryptocurrency fund management;
  • Interplay between cryptocurrency and fiat currencies;
  • Interplay between cryptocurrency and exchange market;
  • Interplay between cryptocurrency and equity market;
  • Role of financial institutions in the cryptocurrency market;
  • Role of government in the cryptocurrency market;
  • Legal, regulatory and ethical issues in the cryptocurrency market;
  • Use of cryptocurrencies in black markets.

C. Blockchain security

Security is the cornerstone of the blockchain technology. Researchers are invited to investigate various aspects of blockchain security issues, including but not limited to:

  • Historical attacks on blockchain and lessons learned;
  • Blockchain vulnerability and precautionary measures;
  • Cost-benefit analysis of attacks on blockchain;
  • Blockchain validation/mining mechanisms;
  • Data security in blockchain systems;
  • Privacy and anonymity in blockchain systems;
  • Management of trust with blockchain systems;
  • Blockchain governance and protocol designs;
  • Off-chain security;
  • Wallet implementation.

D. Blockchain use cases

While the blockchain technology is maturing at a high speed, the application of blockchain will demonstrate the true value of the technology for the human society. Researchers are invited to investigate the application of blockchain solutions in various industry verticals by exploring the potentials and discussing the challenges in applying the technology. Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Networks of interconnected blockchains. Their possible impacts on business and society (Internet of Value)
  • How a blockchain’s points-of-value can be enhanced or impeded when several heterogenous blockchain networks are interconnected?
  • How interconnected blockchains can re-define the Internet as a better servant of society by controlling copyright, value-exchange, and facilitating business models that rely less on advertising?
  • Blockchain in banking;
  • Blockchain in insurance;
  • Blockchain in real estate;
  • Blockchain in healthcare;
  • Blockchain in wholesale and retail;
  • Blockchain in transportation and supply management;
  • Blockchain in communication;
  • Blockchain in agriculture;
  • Blockchain in mining;
  • Blockchain in construction.

E. Blockchain: Regulation and Policy

Blockchain regulation and policy is one of the major challenges in the industry. Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Emerging standards for interconnecting blockchains & the role of regulators;
  • How to balance the need for oversight and control with the need for global reach and ubiquity?
  • Is there an equilibrium between regulation of (open – closed) blockchain systems and self regulation ?
  • In the definition of new rules and standards, how should we balance the role of national (international) governments with those of the industry (see e.g. the case of W3C in the Internet industry);
  • Is there the risk of collusion (antitrust issue) in private and DPS blockchains ? What is the role of antitrust authorities in the platform economy governed by distributed systems ?
  • RegTech and SupTech (the role of distributed ledger technology in regulatory enforcement);
  • Legal/regulatory challenges of decentralised organisations (e.g. DO, DAO, DAC);
  • Weighting illegal markets in cryptocurrency economies.

F. Fiscal policy in tokenomics

Researchers are invited to investigate the economic significance of various “fiscal policies” in crypto-economics and draw analogies from the fiat monetary policies. Researches can either focus on one or more specific blockchains, or build a generalized economic model that can simulate the impact of different fiscal policies on token value and token holders’ welfare. The fiscal policies of interest may include:

  • Token burn (algorithmically reduce the supply of a token);
  • Supply cap;
  • Monetary expansion rate (e.g. token supply increase through mining);
  • Pre-mine ratio;
  • Exchange rate with other currencies:
    • having a float rate;
    • pegged with other currencies — either fiat (e.g. USD, EUR) or other cryptocurrencies (e.g. BTC, ETH).
  • Pricing scheme for commodities denominated in cryptocurrency.

 

3. FUNDING INFORMATION

3.1 Duration. The suggested duration for research projects is 6 months. Projects cannot reapply for an extension.

3.2 Applicants.  Each project should involve at least one academic staff member from UCL who must act as Principal Investigator (PI). Please note that PDRAs may be named as PI if they have an employment contract in place at the point of application that covers the duration of the project. He/she will be responsible for the development and delivery of the project and the reporting on the outcomes and budget usage. Proposals can be co-created with external collaborators. Should collaborators seek funding for their contribution, they will need to be already listed as UCL suppliers or will have to be paid by means of a “Form 7” which UCL uses for one-off duty arrangements. Guidance on payment for one-off duties can be found here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/human-resources/guidance-ucl-contracts-employment

3.3 Award. The best six projects will be selected and funded. The indicative maximum budget per 6-month project block is £33,333.

3.4 Eligible Costs. The scheme covers “Directly Incurred” costs (eg. project-specific research staff, technical staff, travel, consumables or equipment costing less than £10,000) and the salary costs associated with the PI/ Co-I’s estimated time on the project. Any funding requested for staff shall only be awarded for named individuals who are already in post in the organisation or directly collaborating with it. In essence, the short duration of the projects precludes the option of making new appointments in the funding period. The scheme does not fund Indirect, estates and generic administrative costs including infrastructure technician costs.

Approval for the project and associated costing (a Worktribe Standalone budget) must be provided from the PI’s, with approval from:

–  Head of Department

– Departmental administrator with budgetary responsibility (this varies but is often the Departmental Manager; advice should be sought from your Department’s financial support team if you do not know who this is). Note that the approval can be in the form of a brief email confirming consent – e.g., ‘I approve’ is sufficient.

 

4. ELIGIBILITY AND PROJECT REQUIREMENTS

4.1 Principal Investigator (PI), Co-Investigator (Co-I) and staff. PI and Co-Is must have a UCL employment contract in place at point of application that covers the duration of the project. The PI is responsible for ensuring any person engaged, employed, or who may volunteer to work on this project (including CBT external Associates, students, postdoctoral research assistants, sponsored researchers, etc.) complies fully with the UK legislation on right to work throughout any time they are participating on the project. Questions should be directed to the relevant HR Business Partner.

4.2 External affiliation to CBT. The PI is encouraged to seek support from external CBT Research and Industry Associates  who can take part to the Call under the modalities described in 3.2.

4.3 Status of CBT Associate. Both UCL staff members, acting ad PI and Co-Is, and Research and Industry Associates, must be affiliated to the CBT at the Starting Date of the project, see 5.1. The official list of CBT Research and Industry Associates  can be found here: http://blockchain.cs.ucl.ac.uk/people/.

4.4 PhD students. The engagement of PhD students in these projects is encouraged, as it could provide valuable experience complementary to their studies. The proposed project must also be outside and additional to the student’s PhD; otherwise their involvement would be classed as research and therefore ineligible for this type of funding. Principal Investigators are responsible for ensuring that duties associated with the project do not compromise or overlap with students’ core research. Any student involved in the proposal must be given adequate time to pursue their research and not be overburdened with additional responsibilities which would be likely to limit their capacity to complete a thesis in due time. Students must be contracted to work on an appropriate grade on UCL Payscales: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/human-resources/pay-benefits/salary-scales.

4.5 Areas. Projects must address intellectually inspiring challenges and industry impact opportunities in the areas detailed in Section 2 of this Call.

4.6 Impact. Projects must demonstrate how their impact will be maximised through the project

plans, for example by addressing clearly defined research challenge(s), demonstrating how they have been co-created with the CBT external Associates, through undertaking research and appropriate knowledge exchange and early stage ‘proof of concept’ activities. Research proposals which are instrumental to other projects Calls with larger scope and impact are also welcome.

4.7 Retrospective application. Retrospective application (where the individual has already commenced his/her study) or partial applications (where part funding has been found from other sources) will not be considered.

4.8 Conflict of interest.  All UCL staff are required to recognise and disclose activities that might give rise to actual, perceived or potential conflicts of interest and to ensure that such conflicts are properly managed or avoided. Applicants must be able to confirm that they are in compliance with UCL’s policy on Disclosure of Conflicts and Declaration of Interest and that disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest has been made on the relevant system. Details of the current policy are available at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/finance/policies-corporateinfo/declaration-interest-policy

4.9  Ethical Approval. If the research project involves collecting data from living people, involves people as research subjects, or involves data derived from people, the PI must seek and obtain ethical approval before starting the project. See here for more info: https://ethics.grad.ucl.ac.uk/

Failure to comply with the published policies in 4.8 and 4.9 will result in disqualification from the award process or withdrawal of any awarded funds.

4.10 Acknowledgment. Any publication resulting from the project must acknowledge UCL CBT funding. The recommended text to be used is as follows: “This work has been funded by UCL Centre for Blockchain Technologies as part of the 1st Internal Call for Project Proposals on Distributed Ledger Technologies”.

 

5. TIMELINE

5.1 Starting Date. Projects must start on 10 July 2019.

5.2 Closing Date. Projects must terminate by 10th January 2020.

 

 6. HOW TO APPLY

Applications should be submitted online using the electronic form at the bottom of this page.

To be considered for funding, all submissions should include:

– The completed application form.

– Project costing: including a copy of your University’s costing submission report. The format is free.

In the case the Call will be co-participated by external CBT Research or Industry Associates, a clear written agreement/letter of support from those CBT external Associates will be required.

 

7. EVALUATION CRITERIA

All eligible submitted proposals will undergo a submission evaluation process as described in 7.1 and awarded project proposals will undergo a post-submission assessment as described in 7.2. For this scope, an Evaluation Committee will be appointed by CBT and will be composed of three members chosen from the national and international scientific and industry community.

7.1 Submission evaluation process.

7.1.1  Submission Deadline. Proposals, including all the documents listed in Section 6, must be submitted online by 30 June 2019 (24:00 UK time).

7.1.2 Evaluation Criteria. The eligible applications will be assessed according to the following criteria. Each evaluation criterion will be assigned a maximum score, whose total sum corresponds to 100.

  • Scientific & Technical Quality and Impact (40 points)
    1. relevance to the specific project.
    2. clarity of project objectives, in a quantified way.
    3. research impact and augmentation, namely preparation of research grant proposals.
  • Quality of Applicants (20 points)
    1. quality of individual investigators, and quality of team as a whole.
    2. CBT community inclusion, namely minimum 2 different CBT Associates.
  • Industrial Impact (20 points)
    1. level of industrial ambition, as well as end-user pull.
    2. the relevance of the project to the blockchain vast market needs.
  • Management Approach (20 points)
    1. clarity and coherency of work-plan, incl. realistic manpower allocation.

7.1.3 Ranking and Announcement of the awarded proposals. The final ranking will be drawn up on the basis of the total obtained score. The results of the assessment will be approved by the CBT which will announce the final ranking of the projects selected to be financed, within the limit of the available budget. The final ranking will be publicly announced and published in the CBT website on 8th July 2019.

7.2 Post-submission Assessment.

7.2.1 Mid-term Deadline. Each PI of awarded proposals must submit a mid-term project report to blockchain-cfp@ucl.ac.uk by 5th October 2019 (24:00 UK time).  The format of the report is free but it must include the details of both the expenses already incurred and the indication of the costs, as much as possible documented, which are expected to incur until the end of the project.

7.2.2 Evaluation Criteria. The mid-term report will be assessed according to the following criteria. Each evaluation criterion will be assigned a maximum score, whose total sum corresponds to 100.

  • Scientific & Technical Quality (40 points)
    1. overall novelty, creativity and originality, beyond the state-of-the-art.
    2. soundness and coherency of scientific/technical work-plan.
  • Quality of Applicants (20 points)
    1. technical complementarity and integration between different investigators.
    2. good market opportunities for each investigator in the project plan.
  • Industrial Impact (20 points)
    1. likelihood of making a positive contribution to the blockchain industry.
    2. likelihood a new product can be brought to the market thanks to research results.
  • Management Approach (20 points)
    1. management of the intellectual property and research data.

7.2.3 Ranking and Announcement of the post-assessment Results. The final assessment will be drawn up on the basis of the total obtained score. If the score will be lower than 75 points, the award will be suspended and the project will terminate. The results of the assessment will be approved by the CBT which will inform each project’s PI on 10th October 2019.

7.2.4 Final Submission Deadline. The final projects must be submitted to blockchain-cfp@ucl.ac.uk by 11th January 2020 (00:00 UK time).  The format of the final report is free but it must include the details of both the expenses already incurred and the indication of the costs, as much as possible documented, which have been incurred during the project.

 

8. PAYMENT ARRANGEMENTS

8.1 Payment Modalities. The project budget will be directly transferred to the UCL Department of the PI and the UCL Department will autonomously manage the allocated funds, in accordance with the rules set by this Call.

8.2 Payment Terms. 50 % of the funds will be transferred to the PI’s Department as pre‐financing payment on 15th July 2019. The remaining 50% of the amount will be transferred to the Department by 15th October 2019, upon the approval of the mid-term report which must score at least 75 points (See 7.2). Although the initial 50% of the payment can be retained by the PI, if the score will be lower than 75 points, the final 50% of the payment will not be transferred.

 

Further Information

For call related enquiries please contact the following:

General enquiries: Dr. Paolo Tasca (UCL CBT Executive Director): blockchain-cfp@ucl.ac.uk

Scientific enquiries: Prof. Tomaso Aste (UCL CBT Scientific Director): T.Aste@ucl.ac.uk

Awards and Payments: Olivier Delacroix (UCL Senior Research Finance Manager): O.Delacroix@cs.ucl.ac.uk

ANNEXES – TIME LINE