Switzerland's Largest University Tests 'Touchless' Bitcoin Payments Solution

The University of Zurich has launched a bitcoin payments trial that will utilise near-field communication technology.

AccessTimeIconSep 2, 2014 at 10:29 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 11:08 a.m. UTC
University of Zurich ATM
University of Zurich ATM

Switzerland's University of Zurich is integrating a student-made bitcoin payments solution into one of its cafeterias as part of a two-week trial.

Called CoinBlesk, the mobile payments platform uses two-way near-field communication (NFC) technology and was developed as part of a student project to create an open-source bitcoin spending tool.

Students will be able to load their CoinBlesk wallets online or at a new bitcoin ATM that will be installed at the university.

Speaking to CoinDesk, Professor Dr Burkhard Stiller, who served as the project's advisor, described how the two offerings will work together on campus:

"The bitcoin ATM makes the trial phase easier for people willing to pay with NFC-based bitcoin transactions, since they can buy them locally."

The bitcoin ATM, which was manufactured by BitAccess, will be operated by Switzerland-based bitcoin broker SBEX and installed near Mensa UZH Binzmühle, the dining facility that will accept bitcoin payments for the promotion.

Student project takes flight


While it is just now seeing its formal launch, CoinBlesk is the result of months of effort from a nine-member group of both university doctoral students and faculty members.

In addition to Stiller, the university's Dr Thomas Bocek also worked as a project coordinator and developer. Bocek told CoinDesk that the project stemmed from a lecture he gave in 2013 addressing the subject of a bitcoin payments system where the cashier is able to easily send a bitcoin buyer a payment request.

However, Bocek indicated that it was three motivated students who took the idea forward, approaching him about turning it into a project.

Bocek said that while original NFC testing proved difficult, Google's introduction of host card emulation (HCE) technology finally gave his team the technology it needed to realize its ideas. He added:

"This application was tested in an early test run in February 2014, but few Google devices had Android 4.4 at that time. We learned a lot from this test run and we focused further work in the following areas: improving our NFC payment protocol and improving the user interface."

The resulting product aims to provide an easier point-of-sale (POS) experience for both consumers and merchants. For example, because it leverages NFC, only one party needs to be connected to the Internet for a transaction to take place. A more in-depth overview of how the service works can be found on the project's official website.

Budding relationship


While the launch is exciting for the university, is also marks the most recent success for Geneva-based bitcoin startup SBEX.

SBEX recently received approval from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) to install a fleet of domestic bitcoin ATMs after reporting initial difficulties.

Romain Braud, head of business development at SBEX, told CoinDesk that the project has enjoyed support from the university, and that as such, his company extended a unique offer to the institution given the pivotal role it could play in raising bitcoin awareness.

Noting that he has been impressed both with the university and its students, Braud said:

"We made a special deal with them because we trust it's a great project that it can be in the future in all universities of Switzerland."

Although Braud confirmed that there are no immediate plans for the university to expand its bitcoin payments initiative, he added that discussions with the university are ongoing.

Images via the University of Queensland and SBEX


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