As the community of blockchain developers around the world pushes ever deeper into smart contracts, bitcoin is being left behind.
Even as the cryptocurrency on the bitcoin blockchain continues to hover around record highs, the diversity of applications being built on top of the distributed ledger of transactions plateaued years ago.
But one company is helping lead the charge to give bitcoin developers the ability to write sophisticated self-executing lines of code on top of what is widely considered the most secure blockchain.
Announced today, Argentina-based RSK (also known as Rootstock) has completed the first complete transition of a bitcoin exchange to a process called 'merge-mining' of its test network.
Since last week, every single miner on the Bitcoin India mining pool as been earning what RSK calls 'smart bitcoins' along with their share of the pool's bitcoin rewards.
Similar to how the ethereum network is fueled by the ether cryptocurrency, the smart bitcoins mined through RSK would power the startup's smart contract ecosystem.
RSK's new business development manager, Henry Sraigman says the transition of bitcoin miners to the RSK merge-mining is designed to give the resilient bitcoin ecosystem increased opportunity for creativity.
"We decided not to mint a new coin, but as bitcoin was the most robust cryptocurrency out there we decided to connect the smart contract capabilities with the bitcoin blockchain."
Bitcoin India began the process of switching over to RSK merge-mining last March, during the exploratory phase of the testnet. By November, its pool, which also mines litecoin and ethereum, had begun the merge-mining process on RSK's testnet and the bitcoin mainnet concurrently.
Instead of a full switch to merge-mining, Bitcoin India started with only 1 petahash of its total hashing power, and "progressively increased" to the 11 petashashes currently being deployed, according to the firm's co-founder, Yoshi Goto.
"After the startup phase," Goto told CoinDesk, "the merge-mining process has been working with no downtime for the last months and we can expect the hashing power to keep rising."
Increasingly, the number of developers building on a blockchain is being portrayed as an asset to the wide variety of industries interested in building non-cryptocurrency applications on a blockchain.
While the bitcoin developer community is widely regarded as one of the largest, the lack of sophisticated smart contract abilities has limited growth, according to Sraigman.
So instead of mining a new coin to compete with the likes of ethereum, or launching a distributed ledger without a currency as have other competitors in the space, Sraigman says RSK wanted to build a tech solution that would allow give bitcoin developers more sophisticated tools.
To that end, the firm last year raised a $1m seed round and gathered 25 bitcoin startups included Bitfinex, BitPay, Bitstamp, BTCC and Xapo to commit to helping develop bitcoin smart contracts via its sidechain solution.
According to Sraigman, RSK is currently "on-boarding" mining pools around the world and teaching them how to integrate merge-mining.
In spite of some concern that the RSK blockchain might compromise anonymity, Sraigman expects the company will have 50% of global bitcoin miners switched over to 100% merge-mining in the coming months.
If the testnet switches over to a live network in May, as planned, merge-mining is expected to give miners on the bitcoin network access to a new source of revenue with no added mining power demands.
"When we started with this idea, what we decided was to onboard people providing security to bitcoin and to give them a new revenue stream. Because now they can participate in this smart contract revolution."
Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in RSK.
Merging train tracks image via Shutterstock