Phase IV

cBase is a novel blockchain-based data transaction platform that allows for the exchange of personal data for a monetary reward, and Crypta is a CMU-exclusive cryptocurrency that will help the platform function smoothly & seamlessly at Carnegie Mellon University.


cBase is specifically designed for the research sphere; it will facilitate the exchange of data between participants and researchers using a blockchain-based system as a backbone to keep personal data private and secure. You can think of it as the ‘lock box network’ for students at CMU. We can sum up these intertwined solutions as “secure money for secure data”.

cBase Student Side

In order to participate in research, students will log into cBase and grant access to the personal data points requested by the researcher. This is the origination of the blockchain-based smart contract between the researcher and student, which is furthered by the consent form, a more-or-less visible representation of the smart contract. Upon finishing the research study, students will earn Crypta for participation.

cBase Researcher Side

Upon receiving a grant for research, researchers can exchange this money with the CMU Financial Office for Crypta. This helps avoid common pitfalls of dealing with the vulnerabilities of cash. Researchers can use cBase to recruit participants by requesting certain data points, which students can decline or allow access. Through this process, researchers receive the data they need, while being able to reward participants with Crypta.

Click the button below to see an interactive prototype of cBase.

Crypta - the CMU Cryptocurrency

Crypta, on the other hand, is the compensation that students will get for granting data access to researchers and participating in research sessions. Crypta helps to solve critical issues with using cash as payment in research, and offers motivation & incentives for students to participate in research.

Cryptocurrency Mechanisms & the AAF

So now that participants are rewarded for providing valuable data to further various research fields, what can they actually do with the Crypta?

Enter the Academic Aid Fund (AAF): the agglomerated pool of money that students have access to through earning Crypta. The AAF provides a complete system for Crypta to be backed by at least a 1-to-1 dollar exchange rate, with the donation pool allowing Crypta prices to fluctuate above the base rate. Crypta is always worth at least 1 dollar; so as long as the dollar has value, so will Crypta. The AAF allows Crypta to be immensely more usable and flexible in students’ daily lives than any other type of cryptocurrency, because of this intrinsic value.

Because Crypta can be utilized to earn a portion of the AAF money, or be “cashed out” at students’ convenience, Crypta exists as a de facto medium to exchange money, while never competing with actual currency. The highly trackable and secure nature of cryptocurrency means that Crypta functions to yield important information on how money is being earned and spent, without revealing sensitive data on who is using the Crypta or how much is being transacted.

The Bigger Picture

By helping students adapt to a blockchain-based platform where they own their private data, we hope to usher in a new era of decentralized internet, one where companies no longer have to power to use, buy, and sell an individual’s data. Rather, individuals are in control of their data and how it is transacted to companies, and can limit or even revoke this exposure.

In the future, with data becoming more and more synonymous with a type of currency, people can imbue their trust in a secure, encrypted repository of data. By supporting a blockchain-based database at CMU as a research testbed, PNC is uniquely positioned to become a leader in supporting the empowerment of personally-owned data. Likewise, Carnegie Mellon University stands to become an academic leader in both blockchain technology, personal data, and cryptocurrencies on campus. By empowering individuals to have ownership of their own data, PNC and CMU can radically reframe what it means to be a bank, and truly become a repository of valued items that people can trust.

Finally, although Crypta may be tied to the US dollar at the moment, we envision that as the CMU cryptocurrency gains traction and ubiquity in use, this tight coupling will become looser and more flexible. Much like how the US dollar is no longer backed by gold and still is a highly stable currency, the more Crypta can be earned, spent, and circulated, the more easily Crypta can be used in and of itself, and not in exchange for money. This will begin to modify Crypta into a virtual currency that still originates from a seat of inherent value. In this way, we also view our system as a means to accomplish the eventual large-scale societal adoption of a stable, readily available & usable virtual currency like Crypta.