> Blockchain and the Internet of Things: The end goal
Blockchain and the Internet of Things: The end goal
October 12th, 2020
Blockchain applications are resource intensive, and IoT devices generally lack the bandwidth and compute power to participate in current applications. In the future, we can expect the compute power and bandwidth of IoT devices to increase. As devices grow in capabilities, blockchain processes may get easier and we expect to find applications where blockchain routinely delivers benefits. To exemplify this, we'll pick an IoT vertical domain to provide specific use cases. In this article, we will look at the many ways a connected car might interact with various types of blockchain applications.
Blockchains already are being used to solve a subset of automotive manufacture and maintenance problems today at a small scale, but this is likely to grow over the coming years. We will follow our car all the way though its life cycle, from manufacture, usage, and maintenance, to the possibility of novel service offerings in a world where cars can think and interact. Our car will move from the factory assembly line to the owner's garage and from there to the service center, acquiring the necessary parts for maintenance. We'll consider enterprise use cases such as fleet management or ride-share services. IoT and blockchain can impact the many touch points in these scenarios.
Manufacturing our car will require interaction with a complex supply chain supported by blockchain. These supply chains are often run on Ethereum, Hyperledger, or a similar style blockchain that allows for smart contracts, binding the needs of the OEM and the outputs of the many vendors for the parts needed. The blockchain for our car parts has smart contracts that make stipulations about every aspect of the parts bound for the factory. Every data point, from the detailed specifications, the date the part was manufactured, the tests performed on the components, and the quality metrics recorded and used to validate the smart contract, are stored on the blockchain or in databases accessible to the blockchain. Privacy and intellectual property concerns preclude a traditional public blockchain. So, the OEM chooses a blockchain application designed to run as a private instance. This means that only known parties such as vendors, partners, dealerships, and service centers may access the ledger ñ thus helping to protect industrial secrets, while providing accurate results to the end buyer.
Now that the right parts have been created, they are added to a new blockchain that groups the items for shipment to the factory where the car will be assembled. The blockchain will report on the parts as they move, including events like accelerations and decelerations, temperature extremes, opening and closing of containers and loss of components. These will all be accessible to the parties that need to validate production metrics like efficiency and quality. Additionally, the data will be available for shipping and transportation needs. Asset management is critical as components pass through different transport systems, encountering inspections at weigh stations, and even crossing borders and customs. The data might be needed for a truck driver or airline pilot to estimate fuel needs, or a train engineer to determine loading and unloading order, while the factory can track each object's position and health throughout the journey.
Once the parts arrive at the assembly plant, the blockchain data will be validated against the record from the factories and shippers to ensure that what the plant ordered is what they received. Much of this work will be done by Industrial IoT devices which utilize computer vision, unit testing, measurements, and machine learning to determine the parts and their quality. The next step will be for a computer to group parts to make a specific car. While our car is not yet a Thing on the Internet, there are countless Industrial IoT devices embedded in robots on the assembly line completing the assembly. These devices run tests and record data on to the blockchain. As the production line chooses from a menu of options to make specific models of a car based on customer preferences for specific features, the blockchain can validate inventory usage and track changes. No more missing parts or unused inventory on the factory floor with smart contracts.
Product management is another area where blockchain can shine. Assembling the car would utilize yet another blockchain. As each task is completed, it will be signed off by the person or industrial IoT device which completed it, as well as by the entity that tested the results. These data would be stored in a publicly accessible anonymous structure which could be accessed and read, with any new data appended over time. These records are the start of our maintenance logs for the car.
Once our car is ready, it needs to go to a dealership. This trip follows a similar supply chain model as the parts going to the plant, and would include proofs to make sure the right car goes to the right dealer, that the preparations for the showroom are done properly or that it is set aside for a purchaser who ordered directly from the plant. The last step with the dealership is payment, where we pay for our car on a public blockchain. This is perhaps the most familiar aspect of blockchain for most of us, as cryptocurrencies have been around for many years, and digital currency from central banks is starting to show up on the horizon.
Now that we own our car, we are the party appending the data logs with all maintenance and updates that we make. By having all the data in one place, it will be easier for our mechanic at the service center to order replacement parts compatible with the originals or any upgrades we've made since buying the car. These anonymous records can also be used to track parts over time and across thousands of similar vehicles, so we can switch to proactive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance, identifying parts for recalls more quickly and accurately. Owners will receive notifications to change a headlight before it burns out, to replace a battery before it dies, and to proactively repair control systems nearing their end-of-life. And yes, all of this would apply to electric cars as well, just across a different set of manufacturing and maintenance domains.
From here onward, most of our car owner's blockchain interactions will be to public blockchains such as paying for parking, gas or electricity, and tolls. While we are making payments for the services we use, we might also be getting paid for providing services, such as operating as a taxi, participating in a carpool, or even microtransactions for things like providing real-time data about traffic or road conditions. Our car would need permission to access our accounts to pull money out and to put money in. All such transactions could be maintained on blockchains.
When it comes time to re-sell our car to the next buyer, the blockchains are there to provide proof of how well we maintained the car, and that everything is in order. This improves the resale value of the car which means that the new buyer is comfortable paying us more money for it, using, you guessed it, the currency blockchains.
In this shallow dive we looked at how a car goes from parts to a used car sale with many opportunities to gain insight and value from a blended ecosystem of blockchains to support sharing of information, decisions, and the economy. The value of blockchains grows in an ecosystem that leverages their power at every stage and at every step of the lifecycle of the product. The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts, in a blockchain-enabled IOT world.