Monday 26th August 2019

Distributed ledger technology is transforming the future of mobility

Published on April 10th, 2019

Data is an inescapable byproduct of mobility in future. Distributed ledger – blockchain –technology can secure and monetise it and transform the way we move around our world, writes Joe Christopherson, CMO & co-founder, Atlas City.

Over the next decades, the transport industry faces an extreme overhaul, driven by necessity. The world’s reliance on fossil fuels is ravaging the environment and these resources are dwindling. At the same time, consumers are changing their attitudes and rejecting vehicle ownership in favour of sharing. Mobility solutions like electric vehicles and driverless carshares will eventually become the norm.

Greater connectivity and sensor-laden vehicles means vast quantities of data will result. The convergence of IoT and distributed ledger technology (DLT) can help us manage future mobility and its associated data boom.

Painting a picture of expanding data

The number of connected devices is growing faster than the human population. According to Cisco, there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020. As connectivity increases, so will data: the world is predicted to produce ten times more data by 2025.

Transport and mobility will be significant contributors to this data boom. Autonomous vehicles must create and process large amounts of geospatial data to negotiate other vehicles, buildings, and pedestrians. Likewise, electric vehicles must process data to assess charge levels, and ensure all systems in the car work as required, which is also crucial for autonomous vehicles.

The more creative opportunities for future mobility mean even more data. When motorists no longer need to drive, what will they do in their vehicles? Whether we use travelling time to work or stream entertainment, this too will generate more data. Likewise, to support transport on-demand and mobility as a service, our city infrastructures will need and benefit from extra data sensors to keep traffic flow safe and smooth.

Shortfalls of IoT in mobility

Data from IoT sensors and devices is stored in the cloud, but it is not suitable for managing the types of data produced by transport as mobility evolves. Cloud provides centralised storage, but is not necessarily secure and sensitive data about the operation of vehicles could be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Joe Christopherson

One of the largest challenges for IoT in transport is that 4G infrastructure is too slow to support autonomous vehicles, which need real-time data analysis to brake safely and avoid obstacles. This is impossible on current 4G networks due to latency and bandwidth constraints. The promise is that autonomous vehicles will be safer as they eliminate human error, they will be heavier due to the additional sensors and electronics, so if they are involved in a collision, typically it will be more harmful to people.

When IoT and DLT converge

As its name suggests, DLT provides decentralised data storage. Large quantities of data are split into smaller packets, and processed across a network of nodes. The fractions of data are more secure, as hackers would need to access encrypted data stored across several nodes to gain anything valuable. These smaller packets also enable faster data transmission — essential for the future of IoT and mobility.

One of the biggest benefits of DLT is that it enables a shared infrastructure. Using this tech, an IoT device can have its own IP address and communicate data to another IoT device or external stakeholders. This this could allow electronic vehicles or autonomous cars to share data with automotive manufacturers or insurance providers. Stored on the DLT, this data is much more secure and can only be accessed only those with the right permission.

Blockchains and DLT allow data to be transferred more securely, as well as maintaining a record of the data’s journey. This has great value when we consider selling cars. Instead of keeping paper records updated about a vehicle’s history, the car’s blockchain identity can be transferred safely between sellers, buyers, and manufacturers. This data also gives brands with an unprecedented chance to learn more about their customers’ transport habits.

Moving data at scale

While the collaborative might of DLT and the IoT can improve the use of data for transport, this partnership is not without challenges.

As electric cars and autonomous vehicles become the norm, they would generate 25Gb of geospatial data every hour. At the moment, DLT could not process that level of data. Even a blockchain that can handle gigabytes of data at a time, there are issues with throughput and bottlenecks so slow data processing.

Yet the greatest challenge for the mainstream adoption of alternative transport models isn’t technical — it’s behavioural. The tech will evolve in a matter of years, but we’re still not sure about consumers being ready to embrace it. Governance issues are also delaying changes to mobility: our laws and insurance policies were not set up to situations where drivers are not responsible for their vehicles, although the aim it that ultimately, this will make our roads safer.

The author of this blog is Joe Christopherson, CMO & co-founder, Atlas City

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