Bitcoin in your pocket: Singapore startup brings cryptocurrency into the physical realm

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Cryptocurrency has come full circle, with Singapore startup Tangem creating a physical manifestation of bitcoin that you can carry in your pocket.

Speaking on blockchain and cryptocurrency podcast Decrypt Asia, in partnership with Tech in Asia, Tangem founder and chief Andrew Pantyukhin explained how digital currencies can be stored, exchanged and even spent in everyday life outside of cyberspace.

He described the startup as a hardware company, building microelectronic technology based on a particular type of secure chip — the same kind found in many smartphones, and that’s responsible for Apple Pay — which is “designed to be unhackable”.

The chips also “have enough power to do elliptic curve cryptography in real time”, Pantyukhin said.

Tangem builds these secure chips into tiny cards — thinner and smaller than credit cards — which can create their own private keys, and effectively become cryptocurrency wallets in a physical form.

Pantyukhin coins the cards “smart bank notes”, and stresses they work in the same way as fiat cash. Users have access to the value, and if they lose the note, they lose the value too.

“If you give it to another person you essentially transfer the whole value that is contained within that chip to another person,” he says.

“To most people, it is essentially used as a banknote,” he adds.

The notes come in denominations of 0.01 Bitcoin (approximately $87) or 0.05 bitcoin (approximately $434), and can be bought through “a network of third parties” who activate them at the point of sale, Pantyukhin says.

They can then be used as cash — there is a vendor in Singapore that will accept the notes for purchase of gold or silver bullion — gifted, or transferred to an online wallet when the user wants to redeem their currency online.

Pantyukhin’s objective is to get cryptocurrency into the hands of everyday, non-tech-savvy people.

“There are seven billion people in the world who know exactly how to use paper cash money,” he says.

If cryptocurrency is accessed through a phone or computer, users have to consider the security of their device, or the wallet they’re using.

“Most people in the world, they’re not very savvy in those terms,” Pantyukhin says.

What they do understand is keeping physical assets safe.

“They understand that it has value, that you have to keep it secure, that if you lose it you lose the value, that if you give it to another person you transfer the value. We can immediately let everyone in the world apply all of those paper cash skills to cryptocurrency,” he says.

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