Blockchain technologies can now be integrated into any industry, public sector, inside any business and throughout areas in our social contemporary lives.

There is virtually no limit to the possible usage of blockchain in our modern computerized and highly-automated societies. Blockchain technology makes everything it touches totally decentralized, cost-effective, secure, and highly trustworthy. As we witness it, blockchain technology is only at its early beginnings.

In this article, we explain how blockchain technology has recently found a place, unexpectedly, (as is often the case with blockchain applications), in the ‘autonomous’ transportation systems industry, e.g. drones, unmanned vehicles, quadcopters, driverless cars or trucks, etc.

The Decentralized Autonomous Vehicles Foundation 

Leading the charge for this expanded use blockchain technology is the Decentralized Autonomous Vehicle Foundation (DAV), a non-profit organization. DAV was founded in January 2017. Its team is made up of Ethereum gurus and developers, as well as several former NASA astronauts including Commander Scott Horowitz, a member of the DAV board of advisors.

The goal of the DAV is to build a collaborative model where members and other contributors bring their ‘community modules’ that feature various uses and protocols. For instance:

  • Drone charging network;
  • Drone flight planning;
  • Autonomous boat;
  • Search and rescue robot.

All these ‘services providers’ are integrated into the community-based network maintained by DAV. 

The interesting point is that this DAV network is blockchain-based.

The Problem with Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are becoming increasingly more common. Just a few short years ago they looked like a dream out of a 1980’s sci-fi movie. Now they are real! Quadcopters are now very popular, but there are also more AVs becoming more commonplace:

  • Driverless cars (Google cars, Uber self-driving cars…);
  • Self-driving trucks;
  • Delivery robots (like those used by StarshipTechnologies who has partnered with Mercedes and the Scout that is being tested by Amazon;
  • Autonomous boats;
  • Autonomous submarines;
  • Security drones.

Since it is expected that these AV services will become more important and popular, a regulation system is needed to make them work together with customers. One example is finding fly routes for them so they do not collide or cause accidents. It is necessary to securely identify AVs to prevent rogue services companies from operating modified or trafficked vehicles that do not meet safety requirements and could be dangerous to customers. There also needs to be a way to identify with certainty the history of these AVs, such as how they have been used previously or how many problems they may have encountered in the past. This information is vital for the insurance companies who would also be a part of the network.

How Blockchain Solves the Problem

Regulation networks are now operated by private, closed, and often opaque proprietary systems, developed by the providers/constructors of autonomous vehicles. A blockchain-based regulation network offers the advantage of:

  • Transparency (any members of the network can immediately access the information regarding AVs and some AV activities)
  • Security (as always with blockchains, the information cannot be modified without modifying the whole blockchain)
  • Irrefragable identification (identification cannot be faked)
  • Decentralized system (the network ‘belongs’ to the AV community and cannot be controlled by a single actor, thus preventing monopolistic operations that could negatively affect consumers of the AV services and, in general, members of the AV network)

The DAV Foundation operates an Ethereum-like blockchain network with the Kademlia Decentralized Hash Table (DHT) algorithm used for node discovery. A name service has also been developed to substitute humanly-readable names to the cryptographic hashes representing the identity of a member of the network. Since the network is based on Ethereum, most cryptographic hashes and signature systems are based on those Ethereum uses. 

DAV Token

DAV operates a token, the DAV token, and is also able to run smart contracts. The DAV token is exchanged between the actors of the DAV network as payment of services and goods. 

For instance, a driverless car that is a part of the fleet of a driverless cab company who is a member of the DAV network can use the network to allocate a car to a family, needing to take a ride from their house to a local mall. A car will be allocated to the family by following a dedicated protocol. Then that autonomous car will drive itself to the family’s home and take them securely to their destination. For the service, the cab company will be paid in DAV tokens. All information regarding that trip is securely recorded in the DAV blockchain, which merges several sub-blockchains. 

Conclusion

This has been an overview of a fascinating application of blockchain technology for the dynamic and burgeoning industry of autonomous vehicles. To be well operated, the blockchain needs to quickly perform cryptographic operations in a secure environment. Therefore, it is  important to use a professional banking-grade HSM for such operations.

Stay tuned!

References and Further Reading