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Driving the Future of Blockchains Part One: From Car to Super Computer

It is becoming clear that the fundamental concepts of car ownership, ridership and even the physical asset of the automobile itself are about to transform, particularly with the horizon of fully-autonomous vehicles now estimated to become a market reality in 2020.  

This new universe will not only be one of more instrumented vehicles, but one that is a critical part of the distributed and data-driven ecosystem. Getting there will require what Chris Ballinger, director of mobility services and chief financial officer at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), termed “minimum viable partnerships.”

Future Roadmap 

In this four-part series, “Driving The Future of Blockchains,” we will explore the automobile ecosystem at large and the role that these “minimum viable partnerships” might play in shaking up an industry that sees the future automobile as not just as another physical asset, but a machine driven by software, with intelligent sensors bringing data from physical endpoints to actionable and monetizable insights, turning a depreciating asset whose value plummets as soon as it’s driven off the dealership lot into a data-fueled profit center. 

The future model of traditional cars, electric and autonomous, will be embedded with more sensors than ever before and able to capture data that make them more aware of external environmental factors and allow them to become “super-connected” intelligent devices.

These sensors will not only integrate with a driver’s other intelligent devices, but they will collect data about the car, navigation and external elements like weather and road conditions. This will make our cars their own computing machines, profound and far-reaching, as the data collected by them are exposed to analytics software to extract actionable insights.  

This vision is precisely in line with blockchain technology, which truly lays the foundation for this future avalanche of data. It is precisely this data which is valuable for a broad ecosystem of stakeholders which begins with the driver and moves to the manufacturer and the insurer, interested not only in the state of the vehicle for safety, maintenance and insurance premium pricing, but for accident reporting and registration.  

“Hundreds of billions of miles of (human driving) data will be necessary to develop the vision of a safe and reliable autonomous vehicle,” Ballinger said in an interview. “Blockchains and distributed ledgers may enable pooling data from vehicle owners, fleet managers, and manufacturers to shorten the time for reaching this goal, thereby bringing forward the safety, efficiency and convenience benefits of autonomous driving technology.”

The next-generation information architecture for this smart vehicle enables critical data about each vehicle to be recorded and reconciled for all stakeholders to eliminate inefficiency in information sharing about car identity, conditions in real time and accident reporting, auditing and settlement. It is through the use of blockchain technology, a crucial part of the backend infrastructure that transmits and orchestrates data sharing directly from cars to a permissioned and distributed network of stakeholders.

And the automotive industry has taken note, with some key players leading the way. The companies can see that embracing the potential for connectivity is an opportunity to improve their products and the way they serve users.

“Automakers are ramping up their connected car efforts for several reasons,” reported Business Insider. “Internet connectivity in vehicles allows car companies to release software updates in real time, which is extremely important during a recall. Second, automotive companies can use data from the car to analyze its performance and obtain valuable data on how drivers use their cars. Finally, more connectivity provides more ways for automakers to cross-sell their products and services to customers.” 

Business Insider cited a KPMG survey of 200 automotive executives that identified BMW, Daimler (a member of the Hyperledger Project) and General Motors as the perceived leaders in connectivity and self-driving efforts. Toyota, which recently introduced a research institute dedicated to artificial intelligence, ranked fourth and Google, which can hardly be considered an auto manufacturer at all, garnered 1 percent of the votes.

The survey, however, was conducted last year and does not reflect some of the most recent strides being taken by automakers. Porsche, for instance, did not rank in the survey, but recently announced a competition for startup firms working with blockchain technology.

Steps like these mark huge progress from where the automotive industry once stood, even recently.

“There was very limited data that was coming off of cars in the past, now cars are filled with all of these sensors that measure driving behavior, location data, they are becoming a computer and the wealth of data that will be generated is immense, but there really is not a great infrastructure for leveraging and sharing that data to create a new class of applications,” according to Micah Winkelspecht, CEO and founder of Gem, a company working with the Toyota family of companies to make this future a reality.

An autonomous vehicle essentially functions as a supercomputer that, by definition, must have the ability to combine and process a large amount of structured and unstructured data in real time to make split-second decisions about what directions to go and what turns to make. An autonomous vehicle is a platform of applications — real-time mapping, image recognition, computer vision, voice recognition, robotics, data integration, security and more.

The “Driving the Future of Blockchains” series is presented by Gem, a sponsor of Read the preview of the series here

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