"We're definitely not in the beer-vending business."
That might not be something you'd expect the marketing manager for a crypto tech company to clarify, but it's perhaps now necessary when discussing Civic, the startup co-founded by entrepreneur and "Shark Tank South Africa" star Vinny Lingham in 2016.
Announced Friday, the San Francisco-based startup will unveil the world's first "crypto beer vending machine" at CoinDesk's Consensus 2018 next week. No gimmick, Civic sees the prototype, built and branded in partnership with beverage giant Anheuser-Busch, as a way to demonstrate the utility of blockchain-based identity verification schemes.
In short, any conference attendee will be able to walk up to the machine with their Civic app, where they can verify whether they are of legal age and make a purchase.
Civic's Titus Capilnean told CoinDesk:
"We've been thinking about practical ways of bringing crypto technology to a more mainstream audience, and how can we go so so niche that it's so easy to understand for a regular individual. Proof of age seemed like the best low-hanging fruit."
In this way, Capilnean argues the model also circumvents issues with using traditional ID verification techniques in such settings, including being equipped for the variety of IDs consumers might use, as well as the handling of data transmitted or stored in the verification process.
Going even further, the demo illustrates how blockchain technology could one day enable the makers of all kinds of age-restricted products to move into the vending machine market.
"It's not limited to just beer, it could be for any kind of age-restricted product. Unmanned entrance to casinos, and then for the vending machines, we can see this going into concerts, ballgames, venues, conferences," he said.
Still at present, that future might be some ways off.
While the prototype is now said to be in transit to the New York Hilton for the event, it's the first and only in production by the company, and there are no plans at this time for either Civic or Anheuser-Busch to move forward with any wider distribution.
Civic said the machine will aim to release up to 600 free beers daily at the conference.
Where the token fits
Still, there are additional considerations for Civic aside from marketing.
Looking ahead, the demo also provides a glimpse of how a wide range of devices could soon be connected to Civic's identity marketplace, now scheduled for a Q3 launch.
Announced last June, Civic sold $33 million-worth of its CVC tokens to investors ahead of an initial coin offering (ICO) for its protocol that saw more of its custom cryptocurrency dispersed to users. Today, the value of the network is $113 million, according to data from CoinMarketCap.
As described by Lingham last year, the idea was to enable banks and other entities that store and safely hold the data necessary to verify users to offer up their ability to provide a kind of know-your-customer service.
So, the tokens, while not necessary for the demonstration (the beer distributed at Consensus 2018 will be free of charge) could be integrated into later iterations. Essentially, vending machines that need to verify that an ID is valid will need to purchase Civic tokens in order to enact the query and verify the blockchain data.
"In this case, the machine requesting the identity will have to pay for the verification," Capilnean explained, concluding:
"Everyone contributes to the token economy, the service providers pays for the IDs, the validator gets the ID and the consumer gets the product."
Vending machine image courtesy of Civic