The lightning network may be in its early stages, but one intrepid technician has already found a wheely good use case for it. German Bitcoin fan and, presumably, bike enthusiast Matthias Steinig has hooked up an electric bike to the lightning network, allowing users to pay for rental of the bike via the next generation Bitcoin payment method. Steining posted a video on Twitter of the process in which a QR code, configured with the desired rental time and resultant cost, is displayed on an e-ink device on the bike. Once the payment has cleared the battery powers up for the selected duration, powering down again when the time expires. But fear not, should you find yourself out of juice you can still cycle the bike to your destination using more traditional means, or buy yourself some more battery power.
Let’s Get Physical
Steinig’s lightning bike really is quite an achievement. While e-commerce stores and other virtual enterprises have already started accepting lightning network payments, being able to pay for a physical item through the lightning network was always going to be a bigger challenge. The lightning bike isn’t the first hands-on way in which the early days of the lightning network have been leveraged however. In September 2018, engineers at blockchain firm Bitfury developed a coffee vending machine that accepted lightning payments, with a Coca Cola machine getting the same treatment a few weeks later. Swiss café energyKitchen went one better recently by allowing customers to self-order via lightning-equipped QR codes to save queuing. Experimental though they may be, these creations represent an exciting glimpse into the potential of the lightning network, and cryptocurrencies in general.
Lightning the Load
The reason the lightning network has been chosen for these prototypes is because they all involve frequent payments of small amounts, something that Bitcoin has traditionally struggled with and the reason behind the lightning network’s existence. Coffee shops and rental outlets are a perfect fit for the lightning network, with all transactions conducted off chain and settlement payments made at semi-regular intervals. There is a clear use case for such a mechanism of payment, and in ten years’ time who’s to say that you won’t be renting your hover-bike to work using the same old boring lightning network that you did the day before, and the day before that. Yawn.