Exploring ZK Coprocessor: What Comes Next?

Table of Contents
Recently, a new use case for Zero-Knowledge (ZK) Coprocessors has emerged, prompting increased attention from enthusiasts and developers alike. Despite this growing interest, there's a notable lack of a systematic comparison of the technical solutions in the Coprocessor race. This article seeks to shed light on ZK Coprocessors, their essential functions, and how they compare in the market.

I. What are ZK Coprocessors?

Overview of Co-processor Popularity:
The concept of co-processors has gained immense popularity in recent months. Co-processors act as specialized processors designed to complement a central processing unit (CPU) by offloading specific tasks, thereby enhancing overall computational efficiency. This surge in popularity is reflective of the industry's constant quest for solutions that can address the ever-growing demands of decentralized applications (DApps) and smart contracts.
Emerging ZK Use Case:
Amid this surge, a particularly noteworthy development is the emergence of Zero-Knowledge (ZK) Coprocessors. ZK technology, known for its privacy and security features, is finding a novel application in the co-processor domain. This convergence holds the promise of transforming how decentralized applications handle data, introducing a layer of privacy and trustlessness that was previously challenging to achieve.
Lack of Systematic Comparison:
Despite the rising interest and enthusiasm surrounding co-processors, there exists a conspicuous void—a lack of a systematic comparison of the various technical solutions available in the Coprocessor space. The absence of a comprehensive overview makes it challenging for developers and enthusiasts to make informed decisions about which solution best aligns with their needs. This article aims to fill this void by providing a detailed exploration and comparison of the technical intricacies within the Coprocessor landscape.

II. Co-Processor Essentials:

Definition and Positioning:
A ZK Coprocessor, in its essence, serves as a revolutionary advancement in the realm of blockchain technology. It is a specialized processing unit strategically designed to retrieve data from the blockchain and execute computations securely, all while adhering to the principles of trustlessness and privacy. Unlike conventional co-processors, ZK Coprocessors shine in their ability to uphold the decentralized ethos of Web3, providing users with a layer of transparency and security that was previously challenging to achieve.
In the vast landscape of blockchain applications, ZK Coprocessors are positioned as pivotal components that bridge the gap between on-chain and off-chain data processing. Their fundamental role is to empower decentralized applications, ensuring that they can access and manipulate data without compromising on the principles of decentralization and user privacy.
Real-world Scenarios: Uniswap and StepN:
To comprehend the real-world impact of ZK Coprocessors, let's dive into practical scenarios involving two prominent platforms: Uniswap and StepN.
Consider the Uniswap use case: You, as a liquidity provider, wish to optimize your returns by making informed decisions based on historical transaction volumes, APR of fees, and fluctuation ranges of mainstream pairs. In a traditional setting, this involves manually collecting and calculating this data off-chain, introducing an element of centralization and potential trust issues. Enter the ZK Coprocessor, which seamlessly integrates this manual backend process by utilizing ZK technology to self-prove the innocence of the off-chain indexing and calculation. The result? Trust issues are resolved, and the burdensome gas fees associated with on-chain computations vanish.
Now, shift the focus to StepN, a platform revolving around the trading of sneakers. Navigating the complexities of a dynamic market like StepN demands continuous monitoring of data, including daily transaction volume, new user counts, and the floor price of sneakers. Traditional approaches might involve centralized means for data processing or on-chain smart contracts incurring substantial gas fees. Here, the ZK Coprocessor emerges as the ideal solution, seamlessly combining both methods. By employing ZK technology to ensure the authenticity of off-chain indexing and calculations, it navigates the Web3 dilemma, offering a trustless and cost-effective solution.
Dilemma in Web3 Space and Introduction of ZK Coprocessor:
The decentralized nature of Web3 brings along its own set of challenges, particularly when it comes to data processing. Traditional methods often involve centralized means, introducing trust issues that are contrary to the inherent principles of decentralization. On the flip side, on-chain smart contracts, while trustless, often incur astronomical gas fees that may be impractical for certain applications.
This is precisely where the ZK Coprocessor steps in to reconcile these seemingly opposing forces. By ingeniously combining the best of both worlds, it addresses the Web3 dilemma. The manual backend step, typically associated with centralized means, is now "self-proven innocent" through the application of ZK technology. This not only resolves trust issues but also eliminates the hefty gas fees tied to on-chain computations. The ZK Coprocessor, with its ability to seamlessly integrate off-chain indexing and calculation, emerges as a beacon of efficiency, trustlessness, and cost-effectiveness in the Web3 landscape.

III. Co-Processor Architecture and Functions:

Origin and Significance of Co-Processor:
To comprehend the architecture and functions of a Co-Processor, it's essential to trace its roots back to the development history of Web 2.0 and the introduction of the GPU. The GPU, as a separate computing hardware independent of the CPU, played a transformative role by handling computations that were challenging for the CPU—such as large-scale parallel repetitive calculations and graphics computations. This co-processor architecture paved the way for the creation of spectacular CG movies, immersive games, and powerful AI models.
In the context of blockchain, the Co-Processor acts as a similar leap forward in computing system architecture for Web 3.0. In this analogy, the blockchain serves as the CPU of Web 3.0, be it Layer1 or Layer2. However, both are inherently unsuitable for tasks involving 'heavy data' and 'complex computational logic.' The Co-Processor introduces a revolutionary shift by enabling the handling of such computations, thereby expanding the horizons of possibilities for blockchain applications.
Handling 'Heavy Data' in Web 3.0:
Blockchain, in its raw form, struggles when confronted with tasks that involve 'heavy data' or intricate computational logic. This limitation is especially evident in the decentralized ecosystem of Web 3.0, where transparency and decentralization are non-negotiable. Enter the Co-Processor, designed to address these challenges and bridge the gap between the inherent limitations of the blockchain and the ever-growing demands of decentralized applications.
The Co-Processor's role is to fetch data from the blockchain and prove, through Zero-Knowledge (ZK) techniques, that the data is genuine and unaltered. This process, often referred to as "self-proving innocence," adds a layer of trustlessness to the off-chain 'indexing + calculation' phase. Once the authenticity of the data is verified, the Co-Processor proceeds to perform calculations based on this data, again proving through ZK that the results are genuine and untampered.
This dual-layered approach not only resolves trust issues inherent in centralized methods but also eliminates the exorbitant gas fees associated with on-chain computations. By seamlessly integrating the best aspects of both approaches, the Co-Processor becomes a critical component, empowering blockchain applications to handle heavy data efficiently.
ZK Proof and Trustless Calculations:
At the heart of the Co-Processor's functionality lies the ingenious use of Zero-Knowledge proofs. These cryptographic proofs enable the Co-Processor to not only fetch data from the blockchain but also prove the authenticity of that data without revealing any sensitive information. This 'ZK Proof' is a game-changer, providing a mechanism for trustless verification in a decentralized environment.
The trustless calculations performed by the Co-Processor are equally significant. Once the genuine data is obtained, the Co-Processor executes computations based on this data and subsequently provides cryptographic proofs, once again using Zero-Knowledge techniques. These proofs, verified on-chain, ensure that the calculated results are legitimate and unaltered.
The significance of this trustless approach cannot be overstated. In a space where transparency and decentralization are paramount, the Co-Processor introduces a method that guarantees the integrity of data and computations without compromising on privacy or security.

IV. Technical Solutions Comparison:

Overview of Common Co-Processor Solutions:
In the dynamic landscape of Co-Processors, various solutions have emerged, each offering unique architectural nuances and functionalities. Let's delve into a comparative exploration of some prominent Co-Processor solutions—Brevis, Herodotus, Axiom, and Nexus—to decipher their distinctive features, workflows, and current deployments.
1. Brevis:
- Architecture:
Brevis boasts a comprehensive architecture comprising three key components: zkFabric, zkQueryNet, and zkAggregatorRollup. zkFabric focuses on collecting block headers from connected blockchains and generating Zero-Knowledge (ZK) proofs validating their effectiveness. Meanwhile, zkQueryNet acts as an open ZK query engine marketplace, accepting data queries from decentralized applications (dApps) and processing them. Lastly, zkAggregatorRollup serves as a ZK rollup blockchain, verifying proofs from both components and storing verified data.
source: @ABCDE.com
- Workflow:
1. zkFabric: Gathers block headers and generates ZK proofs for validation.
2. zkQueryNet: Acts as an open ZK query engine for dApps, processing data queries using verified block headers.
3. zkAggregatorRollup: Verifies proofs from both components, stores verified data, and submits the ZK-verified state root to connected blockchains.
source: @ABCDE.com
Current Deployments:
Brevis has found applications in various blockchain ecosystems, including Ethereum PoS, Cosmos Tendermint, and BNB Chain. A noteworthy collaboration involves the integration with Uniswap V4 to enhance data processing capabilities for custom pool design.
2. Herodotus:
- Functionality:
Herodotus stands out as a powerful data access middleware, providing smart contracts with synchronous access to current and historical on-chain data across Ethereum layers. It introduces the concept of storage proofs, combining inclusion proofs and computation proofs to validate elements in large datasets.
source: Herodotus.dev
- Workflow:
1. Obtain Block Hash: Determines and validates the block hash containing the data of interest.
2. Obtain Block Header: Accesses the block header associated with the block hash, ensuring its genuineness.
3. Determine Desired Roots (Optional): Decodes specific roots within the block header, such as stateRoot and receiptsRoot.
4. Verify Data Based on Selected Roots (Optional): Utilizes Merkle inclusion proofs to verify the existence of data in the tree based on selected roots.
- Supported Networks:
Herodotus is compatible with diverse networks, facilitating data access from Ethereum to Starknet, Ethereum Goerli to Starknet Goerli, and Ethereum Goerli to zkSync Era Goerli.
3. Axiom:
- Components:
Axiom comprises two main technical components: AxiomV1 and AxiomV1Query. AxiomV1 serves as an Ethereum blockchain cache from Genesis, while AxiomV1Query executes smart contracts for AxiomV1 queries.
- Workflow:
1. Caching Block Hashes in AxiomV1: Caches consecutive block hashes and Merkle roots, updated through ZK proofs.
2. Fulfilling Queries in AxiomV1Query: Enables batch queries for historical Ethereum block headers, accounts, and storage values through ZK proofs.
Recent Development:
Axiom introduced Halo2-repl, a browser-based REPL written in Javascript for Halo2, allowing developers to write ZK circuits using standard Javascript without learning new languages.
4. Nexus:
- Architecture:
Nexus operates in two parts—Nexus Zero and Nexus. Nexus Zero is a decentralized verifiable cloud computing network supported by zero-knowledge proofs and a universal zkVM. Nexus, on the other hand, is a decentralized verifiable cloud computing network powered by multi-party computation, state machine replication, and a universal WASM virtual machine.
- Applications:
Nexus applications can be written in traditional programming languages, with Rust currently supported. It aims to serve as a source of validity, decentralization, and fault tolerance for proof-generating applications, including zk-rollup sequencers and optimistic rollup sequencers.
- Machine Architecture:
Nexus is machine architecture-agnostic, supporting RISC-V, WebAssembly, and EVM. It aims to optimize proof generation further to enable it on regular user-end devices in the future.
Role of ZK in Co-Processor Implementations:
As we peer into the future of Co-Processors, the role of Zero-Knowledge (ZK) technology is poised to become even more integral. ZK, with its capacity to ensure privacy and trustlessness, aligns seamlessly with the principles of Web 3.0. The ongoing evolution of ZK protocols and the exploration of innovative cryptographic techniques are anticipated to further enhance the capabilities of Co-Processors.
In the coming years, we can expect an increased emphasis on optimizing ZK proofs for efficiency and scalability. The continuous refinement of ZK technology will not only bolster the security of Co-Processor implementations but also contribute to making them more accessible and user-friendly. As the industry strives for broader adoption, the role of ZK in Co-Processors will undoubtedly be a key driver of innovation.
Potential of OP-Coprocessors:
While ZK Coprocessors are making significant strides, there is also a burgeoning interest in exploring the potential of Optimistic (OP) Coprocessors. The parallel development of both ZK and OP approaches signals a diversification in the Co-Processor landscape. Optimistic Rollups, a form of OP, have gained traction in scaling solutions, and the concept of OP-Coprocessors might offer a compelling alternative.
The potential lies in striking a balance between scalability, cost-effectiveness, and trustlessness. OP-Coprocessors could present a viable solution for certain use cases, catering to applications that prioritize optimistic assumptions and reduced on-chain interactions. As developments unfold, the interplay between ZK and OP approaches will likely shape the trajectory of Co-Processor evolution.
Upcoming Developments and Future Applications:
The future of Co-Processors holds the promise of continuous innovation and expanded applications. As the technology matures, we can anticipate a broader spectrum of use cases emerging across diverse sectors within the blockchain ecosystem. From decentralized finance (DeFi) to non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and beyond, Co-Processors are poised to play a pivotal role in enhancing the functionality and efficiency of various blockchain applications.
One notable area of potential growth is the integration of Co-Processors in Layer 2 scaling solutions. As Layer 2 solutions gain prominence for addressing scalability challenges, Co-Processors could serve as crucial components in optimizing data processing and computation on these layers. The synergy between Co-Processors and Layer 2 solutions could lead to more robust and scalable blockchain ecosystems.
As ZK Coprocessors pave the way for a new era in blockchain technology, the journey has just begun. With transparency, trustlessness, and scalability at its core, these innovative solutions hold the promise of unlocking unprecedented possibilities in the decentralized world. As we move forward, staying tuned to the evolving landscape of ZK Coprocessors is not just a choice but a necessity for those riding the wave of blockchain innovation.

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