On Oct. 3 and 4, Ripple hosted a gathering of 200 developers, researchers and graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley campus for its first annual University Blockchain Research Initiative conference. Known as UBRI Connect 2019, this is Ripple’s major academic conference focused on blockchain and digital assets from a multidisciplinary perspective, hosted in partnership with Berkeley.
The event welcomed over 40 schools from 14 different countries to discuss blockchain and crypto across business, law and engineering. UBRI Connect also provided the opportunity for Ripple’s developer platform for payments, Xpring, and its global payments network, RippleNet, to announce major milestones and updates.
“UBRI Connect is an academic-focused gathering that allows Xpring and RippleNet an opportunity to tell their stories,” Ken Weber, head of social impact at Ripple, told Cointelegraph. “For instance, Xpring saw this conference as a chance to announce support for developers with tools and funding for the most promising ideas.”
A closer look at UBRI
According to Weber, Ripple’s UBRI program currently consists of 34 university partners around the world, half of which are based in the United States. Many of the universities accepted have performed prior blockchain and fintech research. Through UBRI, Ripple plans to help enrich this research in order to create true innovation in the blockchain and cryptocurrency ecosystem.
Weber also made it clear that UBRI is much different than traditional corporate-sponsored research. Instead of using funding to direct research, UBRI is choosing to partner with university departments and faculty that are already engaged with blockchain. That way, Ripple can make the funding unrestricted, allowing academics to work on the issues that are of the most interest to them.
“We haven’t gone to our UBRI university partners telling them what products and technical issues we need solutions for,” Weber said. “We’ve decided that funding is unrestricted and is entirely philanthropic.”
While UBRI does not dictate how funds are spent, the program organizers believe that the university partners are genuinely interested in what Ripple is doing. According to Weber, UBRI has an inventory of research topics that anyone in the network can access in order to choose topics to work or collaborate on.
Through UBRI, Ripple funds universities across various academic disciplines. Half of the $50 million in funding UBRI has granted to universities so far has gone to engineering schools, while the remainder has been allocated to business schools and law schools.
For instance, Weber noted that UBRI is working closely with law and policy professors on policy and regulation research. Some of these professors are in discussions with central banks to help shape these studies. URBI also works with Stanford University’s engineering department, noting that the graduate students and faculty there have helped Ripple discover two breakthroughs in cryptography that are important for helping the blockchain scale. “The objective here is less about development for Ripple, but rather to help build the blockchain and crypto ecosystem,” Weber said.
Keeping pace with growth
UBRI Connect 2019 also provided a stage for Ripple’s Xpring and RippleNet to discuss the recent developments with XRP, the cryptocurrency used by the Ripple payment network.
During one session, David Schwartz, Ripple’s chief technology officer, discussed the “Internet of Value,” shedding light on the differences between RippleNet and Xpring.
“Ripple is building a global payments network for financial institutions powered by XRP, whereas Xpring is building a global payments network for developers powered by XRP,” Schwartz specified.
While Xpring and RippleNet focus on different sectors, the two are related. Senior vice president and Xpring lead Ethan Beard mentioned during his presentation, “We think building the Internet of Value is akin to building the internet.”
Ripple vice president Doug Purdy also discussed Xpring and its new developer platform that would allow the XRP Ledger and Interledger to send and receive payments in any currency.
“The goal with everything we are doing here is how we can make it possible for the 23 million app developers to put money at the center of their applications,” Purdy said during his speech at UBRI Connect. “We believe that XRP is the most important, most effective means to bridge between boundaries that we see geographically and from a monetary perspective.”
Yet, while UBRI has been met with overall success, Weber, Ripple’s UBRI lead, noted that it has become challenging to keep pace with the level of student demand as the program continues to grow.
“Ripple is still a small company and we are busy building its core business,” he said “We have a lot of great people who enjoy engaging with faculty and students, yet we can only engage with so many schools and offer support for so many projects.”
“The challenge now is to meet the expectation for collaboration and to keep the program open to universities, grad students, interns and faculty members.”
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