‘Drive-to-earn’ app aims to bootstrap ‘dynamic maps’ with crypto rewards

Blockworks exclusive: Natix has a privacy-focused smartphone app to map the world, and a plan to onboard users to Web3


jamesteohart/Shutterstock, modified by Blockworks


In the trendy area of Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks (DePIN), a recently launched smartphone app proposes to bootstrap the creation of “dynamic maps” through token incentives.

Even though its proposed blockchain-based token economy is months away from launch, the app has already met with early success, mapping 1 million kilometers in about 2.5 months. That’s a faster pace than Hivemapper, a hardware dashcam and app that competes with Google Street View using token incentives, the company says.

Hivemapper and Helium are two sources of inspiration for Natix — the company behind the app — as it moves towards a crypto business model, CEO and co-founder Alireza Ghods told Blockworks.

“I come from the autonomous driving industry [where] mapping or maps are super important,”  Ghods said. “For me and you, maps are a representation of the real world. For autonomous objects, it’s their world, that’s how they operate.”

A future where autonomous agents navigate the real world takes data — lots of it.

Hamburg, Germany-based Natix has been around since 2020 building a privacy-focused computer vision platform for smartphones. But it closed a $3.5 million seed round in April in a pivot towards crypto as a means to kick-start growth of its app, called Drive& — yes with the ampersand — which has launched on both Android and iOS.

So far the company has logged about 10,000 registered users, and reports around 4,000 weekly active users, a rate of growth which Ghods attributes to its smartphone strategy, leveraging hardware that users already have rather than requiring special devices.

“It’s a supercomputer you have in your pocket” and “a sensor hotel,” he said.

A token economy to scale

Unlike apps that record video or images, Drive& imagery never leaves the users’ devices, allaying privacy concerns. Instead, it’s processed in situ, and converted to anonymized data — that’s why it’s called “edge computing.”

Natix takes the data and converts it into maps which can provide valuable information on meatspace such as road congestion, crowd size, and available parking spots.

“Dynamic maps enable a new era of smart city and smart mobility applications ranging from crowd management to autonomous driving,” the project’s white paper notes.

But unlocking that value requires scaling the data pool massively.

“You need a certain critical mass before you can monetize these networks,” Ghods said, “you cannot just monetize one driver, but a few hundred drivers per city — that’s where the story gets interesting.”

This is why the idea of creating a token economy makes sense, according to Leonard Dorloechter, co-founder of Peaq, which is providing the blockchain infrastructure for the planned Natix Network.

“We’re building a layer-1 specifically for DePIN providing a decentralized backend that has the functionalities which are commonly needed,” Dorloechter told Blockworks.

That includes modules for things like decentralized identity, data storage, access control and payments.

Peaq won a Polkadot parachain auction on July 13 which will give it a two-year lease beginning at the end of this month.

DePIN is a new buzzword for a concept also known as Proof of Physical Work (PoPw) and popularized by Multicoin Capital in April 2022.

“DePIN is the Frodo Baggins of crypto,” Peaq wrote in a February blog. “Unassuming, even endearing at first glance. But with it comes the potential to unite Web3’s most promising fields; IoT/EoT, energy, telecoms, mobility, behind one term.”

A ‘Web 2.5’ play

The Natix approach today is, admittedly, not using crypto, but Ghods sees that as a necessary phase to onboarding users, some of whom eventually will participate in a true Web3 economy, be active in a governance DAO, and so on.

“Do you think we’re going to onboard the next couple of billion users by giving them the same experience that we’re giving [now] — with downloading wallets and looking at transaction hashes and things?” Ghods asked.

“They don’t care about blockchain — it’s just another technology — but what they do care about is their life being easier or some utility added for them, or added value for them,” he said.

The app starts off with a points system, where the rewards are redeemable for discounts on consumer electronics. They are not transferable or exchangeable on independent marketplaces.

“If you’re asking me to connect my MetaMask and I don’t have a MetaMask, and I’m an Uber driver…you lose that guy as a user,” Ghods said.

But that’s just a stepping stone.

“We do have a chance to educate you on what crypto is, and I think if you do this right, then we have a chance to onboard you into even creating a wallet,” he said.

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