Michigan Engineering News

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Cryptocurrency innovation: U-M to establish FinTech Collaboratory

New funding model will drive innovation and could help close the infrastructure finance gap.

Smart cities illustration
Smart cities could benefit from growing cryptocurrency use cases and applications. Getty Images.

Financial technology research and education at the University of Michigan will get a boost with $1 million from Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative.

The funding to U-M—one of 11 universities with new partnerships with Ripple—will support academic research, technical development and innovation in blockchain, cryptocurrency and digital payments. Ripple enables global money transfers using blockchain.

With the funds, U-M will establish the FinTech Collaboratory to build multidisciplinary curricula in the booming area, as well as engineering and business use cases for cryptocurrencies in new applications such as smart cities.

The FinTech Collaboratory will be an interdisciplinary forum that includes engineering, business, public policy and economics. The Ripple gift will be housed in the Center for Smart Infrastructure Finance. The collaboratory and the center are interdisciplinary initiatives among the College of Engineering, Ross School of Business, Ford School of Public Policy, and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

“The most important thing this funding allows us to do is integrate the engineering and data science with finance and policy to craft financial models to fund infrastructure, developing models to close the infrastructure finance gap,” said Peter Adriaens, director of the Center for Smart Infrastructure Finance and professor of civil and environmental engineering and finance. “These solutions will democratize access to infrastructure and level the playing field between the rich and poor.”

These solutions will democratize access to infrastructure and level the playing field between the rich and poor.

Peter Adriaens

The Center for Smart Infrastructure Finance aims to change the way infrastructure is funded by harnessing the value of the data infrastructure is capable of providing. It is advancing new business and investment models for efficient capital deployment toward smart and resilient infrastructure systems.

As one example, smart stormwater controls using water quantity and quality data from agricultural or urban runoff coupled to weather forecasts can manage drainage and discharge in receiving waters, thus reducing the need for expensive gray infrastructure systems.

Blockchain technology is being used to solve real-world problems across almost every industry in the modern economy, from banking and payments to retail and health care.

As the technology matures, the academic community is expected to play a vital role to drive adoption and develop new, innovative applications of blockchain. These partnerships are designed to grow and develop blockchain programs at top tier universities that will prepare the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“In less than a year, we are already seeing UBRI partners create new cross-disciplinary research programs and courses, as well as collaborate with one another to share ideas on how to grow the blockchain ecosystem,” said Eric van Miltenburg, senior vice president of global operations at Ripple.

In addition to funding support, Ripple is providing U-M with strategic guidance and technical resources, as needed.

Read a Q&A with Peter Adriaens, director of the Center for Smart Infrastructure Financing