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by Jill Richmond, Jul 12, 2017

Driving the Future of Blockchains Part Three: Entering the Ride-Sharing Environment


Gem Automotive Post Three

With transportation ushering in a new period of innovation and a new, evolving automotive ecosystem turning car-generated data into valuable products and services, the self-driving ecosystem is poised to have a huge impact not only on the new ride-sharing environment, but also on the technical and architectural enablers within the automotive industry.   

The World of Ride Sharing

According to an ARK Invest white paper analyzing Mobility-as-a-Service, superior economics and increased convenience will encourage adoption of autonomous cars by as early as 2019. As a result, autonomous taxis will accommodate a ten-fold increase in vehicle utilization rates, radically reducing the price of point-to-point travel and spurring a fundamental shift in consumer behavior.  It is fundamentally believed that the taxi will grow to dominate personal mobility, disrupting the auto industry dramatically and transforming the economy yet again, but it is the consumers that stand to be the greatest beneficiaries of this transformation.

While fully autonomous taxis may be a several years away, mobile taxi hailing applications such as Uber and Lyft have already changed the ecosystem.  Convenience, ubiquity and the economics of mobile taxis are creating true alternatives to car ownership.  

The statistics tell us that ridesharing services could have caused a cumulative loss of 640,000 car sales globally through 2015 and may have caused another 1.9 million in forgone sales units in 2016, with Asian markets including China, India and Southeast Asia experiencing faster adoption of ridesharing services than more developed markets because of the infrastructure obstacles to driving and parking cars in crowded urban centers.

To that end, the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) is prototyping the Ethereum blockchain as an alternative to Uber and Lyft through its recently announced consortium, projecting that blockchains could help its vehicles provide more value to owners by enabling seats, trunk space and other unused but potentially valuable resources to be monetized.  

In the future that TRI imagines, blockchain tools will make it possible for vehicle owners to monetize rides, cargo space and even the vehicle itself. With the assistance of blockchain technology, storage of vehicle data, such as usage, owner info, drivers and passengers, can be validated between two parties via executable distributed code contracts to eliminate the need for financial intermediaries, which in turn will save users’ transaction surcharges.

"The blockchain can store data about the vehicle’s usage and information about vehicle owners, drivers and passengers," said Chris Ballinger, the director of mobility services and CFO at TRI.

Driving Progress

TRI is working with Oaken Innovations — a finalist in the Consensus 2017 startup competition — and Israel-based Commuterz, two companies working to develop blockchain applications for car sharing, vehicle access, payments and carpooling.

Hudson Jameson, an Ethereum developer and chief operating officer at Oaken Innovations, publicly stated that the peer-to-peer car and ride-sharing platform can allow consumers to lease a vehicle short-term.

The proof-of-concept (PoC) is being developed “in anticipation for the autonomous car future, where the average consumer won’t own a car, but also, this provides utility now, allowing individual and fleet auto owners to lease their vehicles to trusted and identified riders,” said Jameson.

This will work by supplying cars with a chip that contains “an Ethereum node, an IPFS node and NodeJS with some supporting Nodejs modules,” according to Oaken Innovations’ website. Other technologies can be integrated as well, such as GPS, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and wireless technology, which in combination “smartifies” the car.

According to a short introductory video, on the frontend, a driver downloads an app which finds available cars, then can book one and pays for it through the blockchain. The app communicates with the car through the chip, allowing the driver to unlock the doors with just a click.

The IPFS node stores the data, in a decentralized manner, so that the app knows how much to charge for the use, with the transaction securely happening on the blockchain. That data can then be shared with insurance companies to lower premiums or sold to car companies for research, with Jameson having stated that the data-sharing is:

“More about setting up a system that breaks through the silos that these large auto companies have developed over time that limit collaboration. Additionally, a system like this opens up the possibility of building autonomous incentive systems for sharing the data, whether it be a consumer selling their own driving data or large companies trading and selling their autonomous car driving data.”

TRI is also working with the blockchain platform company Gem on evolving usage-based insurance, which would leverage blockchain technology to tailor auto insurance based on specific data collected around vehicle usage.

Toyota, which has revenue to the tune of $200 billion a year, recently joined the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance. In regard to the car-sharing PoC prototype, the company hopes to make better use of an asset that has long held untapped potential for owners and the industry.

“A car sits idle 99 percent of the time,” Balinger said. “The technology we are working on is a way of monetizing the potential of owners of the asset to utilize it at a much higher level and monetize the types of transactions that are not monetizable today."

The “Driving the Future of Blockchains” series is presented by Gem, a sponsor of Distributed.com. Read a preview of the series here, part one here and part two here.

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