Technology’s changing face

Last modified: Tuesday, December 30, 2014
The face of technology is ever-changing, and in Peterborough — the birthplace of the build-it-yourself home computer publishing industry — new seeds are being planted.

Encouraged by his son, Derek, Robert Wilkins started playing with Dogecoin — a digital cryptocurrency — about a year ago in his basement in Peterborough. Wilkins tailored several computer parts to “mine” Dogecoins — solving algorithms that are part of the cryptocurrency’s software, and rewarding him with his own Dogecoins. Realizing how easy it was to modify these computer parts, Wilkins started building more and more computers. He quickly outgrew his basement, and installed more at Ziftr, the startup he founded in Milford.

Wilkins didn’t realize the significance his hobby could have, until he was in the Adirondacks one weekend. “A light bulb went off,” Wilkins said about cryptocurrency by phone on Dec 18. “This is going to change the world.”

Robert decided to create his own online currency, ziftrCOIN.

Robert is not intending for ziftrCOIN to compete with other types of cryptocurrency, like Dogecoin, Bitcoin or the countless others being created. He wants ziftrCOIN to be a conduit that will bring cryptocurrency to the populace. And his plan is for New Hampshire to become a cryptocurrency hub. Cryptocurrency publications reported Tuesday that Ziftr sold 3,611,807 ziftrCOINs for a total of $500,000 during its first 10 days on the market.

According to some, cryptocurrency is a more secure form of currency and does not incur fees like those associated with credit cards.

Robert isn’t the only one playing around with technology in Peterborough.

Jeanne Dietsch and her husband, Bill Kennedy, started building autonomous robots at their kitchen table in Peterborough in the mid-1990s. Their hobby quickly turned into Mobile Robots, Inc., which later became ActivMedia Robotics. After Mobile Robots created a platform for tasks, like robots independently navigating around hospitals, offices and labs, Kennedy and Dietsch, both of Peterborough, sold their company to Adept Technology, a multinational corporation.

Now Dietsch and five or six others heading a makerspace movement in Peterborough are hoping they can inspire others’ success from their hobbies developed at the kitchen table, and in their basements and garages.

Cryptocurrency for 
the Granite State

Derek Wilkins, a ConVal graduate, said Tuesday that it’s cool New Hampshire is becoming a major player in cryptocurrency, because of his father. Derek lives in Portland, Oregon, and used to mine — meaning he set up computers to perform the math problems that earn you digital coins — cryptocurrency for fun. The coins can also be purchased and used in any marketplace anywhere the proprietors accept the currency.

Cryptocurrency, rather than a government regulating it, is supported by its users through computer programs.

Robert’s plan is to place cryptocurrency into the hands of consumers, while also encouraging retailers to accept it as a type of payment.

Cryptocurrency, particularly bitcoins, are too expensive for most consumers to afford. On Wednesday, one bitcoin equaled $328.04.

There isn’t much of an incentive for consumers to buy cryptocurrency at the moment, because many retailers don’t accept this payment form. But ZiftrCOIN plans to change that by offering retailers an application program interface that wouldn’t accept just one type of cryptocurrency. ZiftrCOINS’s API would allow retailers to accept Ziftr’s cryptocurrency, along with most others.

The biggest challenge, Robert said, is getting consumers in to use cryptocurrency. “By developing our own coin,” Robert said, “I can give a whole bunch away.”

ZiftrCOIN, according to its website, is distributing 300 million of its own coins to ease consumer familiarity with cryptocurrency.

Consumers won’t have to worry about the price of ziftrCOIN falling, either. Each ziftrCOIN will have a minimum redemption value of $1 when spent in the ziftrSHOP online shopping marketplace.

Why cryptocurrency?

Robert said it’s beneficial to consumers because it allows for a faster transaction than traditional money. A transaction with cryptocurrency is also less expensive, because neither consumers nor retailers have to pay credit card fees. Cryptocurrency is also more secure, because it’s decentralized, and can’t be hacked from a single point.

Robert envisions cryptocurrency benefiting New Hampshire in more ways than one. “Certainly, we’ve got a great tech culture, just being in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state.” Robert continued, “I’m hoping we can take this and move it into a bigger piece of the state, the state actually getting behind the cryptocurrency team.” The ruling on whether or not cryptocurrency is legal in the U.S. and elsewhere is still out.

Robert said that if the state of New Hampshire adopted it, cryptocurrency could save the state alone millions of dollars in credit-card processing fees. He imagines cryptocurrency being used for toll fees, parking tickets and taxes — anything that requires a credit card payment. “Which saves money for taxpayers,” Robert said. “It saves us a lot of money.”

When Derek was asked if cryptocurrency can benefit the Monadnock region, he said that it’s a market that is growing rapidly. He said it’s not well understood yet, but one day could become a job opportunity for those who understand how it works. “If we can get more people into New Hampshire and Peterborough into it, that would be great,” Derek said.

Robert praised New Hampshire’s business environment as being a relatively free, unregulated marketplace — the kind necessary for something like cryptocurrency to thrive.

Although Ziftr has offices all over the country, its headquarters are in Milford. “We are at 35 [employees] now. We’re anticipating we’ll more than likely double next year. We’ll certainly have some international offices. [But] our main base is here,” Robert said.

A pace that inspires

Monadnock Art X Tech —the makerspace movement in Peterborough — is making strides establishing itself, with the goal of returning Peterborough to its technological prestige, and helping the next generation of makers along the way. Monadnock Art X Tech believes that leasing the armory building at the Community Center will help them get there.

At the Select Board’s meeting on Dec. 16, Monadnock Art X Tech stated their interest in leasing the former armory from the town of Peterborough. Monadnock Art X Tech’s management team also wrote a letter of interest to the town.

In their presentation to the Select Board, Dietsch said they are very interested in the armory “because we see this as an opportunity to bring back Peterborough as an old brand, a center for technology.”

Dietsch said that in the 1980s and 1990s, Peterborough was the computer magazine center of the world. “That’s when I came, and a lot of other people my age came here,” Dietsch said. “We want to bring that back. We think the makerspace can do that.”

A makerspace is a shared space that provides residents access to tools and technology they otherwise might not be able to afford. This could include 3D printing technology or laser cutters. There is traditionally a membership fee that gives you access to the makerspace and its equipment.

Monadnock Art X Tech, formerly Monadnock Makers, told the Select Board the club could offer much more than just space for hobbyists to play around with gadgets and gizmos.

Dietsch said a makerspace could provide high school graduates not moving on to college a place for them to informally continue their education. They could use the equipment makerspace provides to learn and play with technology, auto mechanics or other vocational skills that help them create a future for themselves. Dietsch said the talent in town from entrepreneurs and engineers could provide these graduates with alternative type of education at no cost to them.

Rachelle Beaudoin of Peterborough said a makerspace is providing her with invaluable opportunities for her career, too. Beaudoin, who is on the makerspace’s management team, is an artist who incorporates video and wearable technology into her pieces. Beaudoin said that as a young person, studio space is expensive, especially with student loans and other expenses she has. “I’m really excited for this space,” Beudoin said.

Seth Plum, a retired engineer from Peterborough, stood up during the public comment period. “I have plenty of time to share my knowledge with younger ones that want to learn stuff. There is a whole bunch of us in Peterborough. We want to yield our experience, rather than pass it away.”

The town is now looking at the viability of this proposal.