Bitwalking is a digital crypto-currency that is generated by human movement.
Once installed on your phone, the free app converts steps to Bitwalking dollars (BW$).
The new digital currency will be earned by walking, unlike other digital currencies such as Bitcoins that are “mined” by computers.
The app counts and verifies users’ steps, with walkers earning approximately 1 BW$ for about 10,000 steps (about 5 miles).
Initially, users will be given the chance to spend what they earn in an online store, or trade them for cash.
The project founders, Nissan Bahar and Franky Imbesi, have attracted more than $10 million of initial funding from mainly Japanese investors to help launch the currency and create the bank that verifies steps and any transfers.
Electronics giant Murata is working on a wearable wristband that will provide an alternative to carrying a smartphone and show how many BW$ the wearer has earned.
Shoe manufacturers are poised to accept the currency, and a UK bank is in talks to partner with the project at one of the UK’s biggest music festivals next year.
Nissan Bahar and Franky Imbesi have a track record in disruptive technology that could help developing nations as much as richer ones.
In 2014, they launched Keepod, a $7 USB stick that acts like a computer in Nairobi, Kenya.
The idea of Bitwalking is to take advantage of the trend for fitness trackers by offering an additional incentive to keep fit.
The global scheme plans to partner with sportswear brands, health services, health insurance firms, environmental groups, and potentially advertisers who could be offered unique insights into the audiences they are targeting.
In the future, employers may be invited to take part in a scheme that would be offered to their employees to encourage them to stay fitter, with the currency they earn converted and then paid alongside their salaries.
In developed nations the average person would earn around 15 BW$ a month, but it is hoped that in poorer countries where people have to walk further for work, school, or simply to collect water, the Bitwalking scheme could help transform lives.
The impact Bitwalking could make in developing countries isn’t lost on the founders. It is one of the central reasons for creating the currency. In Malawi, one of the African nations to join at the launch of the project, the average rural wage is just US$1.5 a day.
Carl Meyer, the Bitwalking manager for Malawi, has set up the first two Bitwalking hubs in Lilongwe and Mthuntama where local people will be trained how to trade the BW$ online for US$ or the local currency, Malawi Kwacha.
Eventually an automatic online exchange is planned that will match up buyers with sellers and a rough exchange rate will begin to emerge.
The Go! app for iOS and Android devices will initially be offered to a handful of countries, including the UK, Japan, Malawi, and Kenya, to give the organizers a chance to iron out any difficulties before other countries come on board.
The idea of making money by simply walking isn’t completely new. Several start-ups have tried to connect keeping fit to earning rewards but most have failed to measure movement accurately enough to avoid scammers.
Bitwalking hasn’t officially released the algorithm used to verify steps but says it uses the handsets’ GPS position and Wi-Fi connections to calculate the distance traveled.
The team has created its own walking algorithm to verify users’ workouts after testing Google’s and finding that steps could be spoofed.
The phone reports the speed and type of movement as measured by the accelerometer.
At its launch the total amount someone can claim in one day will be capped at around 3 BW$ (roughly 30,000 steps) and running multiple accounts will be banned.
The success of the scheme is likely to depend on how much interest there is from established companies such as big sportswear brands, health insurance firms, or charity and environmental groups all of whom have an incentive to work with the fitness sector.
In Japan, it is not unusual for companies to offer employees rewards for fitness activities. Bitwalking’s founders hope their project could help extend this idea to other nations.
Japan’s largest convenience chain store, Lawson, runs a successful scheme that pays its workers up to $50 a year to eat healthily and keep fit.
However, the Lawson scheme is based on promises and trust, so unlike Bitwalking it is not verifiable. The vouchers earned cannot be traded for cash.
Despite the freedom to trade, it is likely that unless BW$ can be freely used to buy goods and services they are likely to drop in value from parity with the US$ – the point where the founders are launching it.
The online store will sell goods for the same price in BW$ as US$.
Keeping the virtual shelves of this online store fully stocked will be one of the first challenges.
The store isn’t expected to be open all the time, but plans are in place for other retailers and service providers to accept the currency in their stores too.
It is still not clear how a currency that appears to be so easy for users to produce could maintain its value, nor if the initial funding for the scheme will be sufficient to sustain it in the initial period while confidence in its value is being built up.
The Bitwalking website will invite people to apply to join the scheme so the company has some control over user numbers.
Because the new scheme necessarily tracks its users there will be data available that could be particularly valuable to advertisers – and accompanying concerns over privacy.
Transfers of the new currency will also be carefully monitored with transactions going through a central “bank” which verifies each deal using the block chain method used to transfer other crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin.
Users will have access to their own wallet which stores the Bitwalking dollars they have earned and will be able to transfer them to others via the app.