The Link Between Autonomous Vehicles and Blockchain

Autonomous vehiclesBrave New Coin

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are on the verge of completely revolutionizing the way we think about the transportation of both goods and people. In order to help usher in this new way of doing things, the DAV foundation has built a network which can not only connect cars to cars or drones to drones, but can link together any and all autonomous vehicles including cars, trucks, rovers, and drones, along with the vital infrastructure needed to make them work. This includes mapping software and services such as charging outlets.

I spoke to John Frazer, an Ethereum Foundation veteran who is now involved as CCO of the Decentralized Autonomous Vehicles Foundation on the topic and he provided a brief overview of this interesting project:

“We acknowledge that reaching full machine autonomy for vehicles will take time. The DAV network also supports discovery, communications, and transactions involving manned vehicles. We recognized at the outset that there will always be a slice of the market that would insist on human supervision and intervention, whether that involved drones, or rovers, or road vehicles or marine vehicles”, Frazer explained.

Through the DAV Network, people who own vehicles or the charging stations on the network are paid for the services that they can provide their peers. By leveraging this peer-to-peer system, users on the network have access to an expansive system of AVs and infrastructure which can take them anywhere or bring them anything. DAV is laying the foundation for a decentralized transportation infrastructure that will have built-in incentives for all the different participants: consumers, businesses, software developers, hardware makers, maintenance providers, insurers, and arbitrators.

The introduction of blockchain technology across a wide array of industries has altered the way many key decision makers approach recognizing and exchanging value. Industry-specific applications built on top of blockchain technology have the capacity to create new ecosystems where value can be exchanged in a secure and immutable manner. DAV is taking this one step further by applying the principle of a peer-to-peer value exchange to the transfer of physical things connected to the transportation sector, leveraging both the blockchain and emerging technology of smart contracts to allow secure interactions where no parties need to worry about trust.

A system of this nature is important to ensure that the larger industry players like Tesla, Uber, or Alphabet do not end up with a virtual monopoly over the growing Internet of Transportation. Vertical integration of all vehicles and infrastructure under one company does not currently look like a viable outcome as the industry is already too large. A decentralized network, or a commons, will allow innovators and companies to integrate their solutions into a greater whole, without the level of investment that the tech giants have access to,

Encouraging experimentation and innovation in emerging sectors is a vital component for their success, and increasing the number of companies making viable contributions to the space maximizes the potential avenues for where the next big breakthrough in mapping, fuelling, or safety will come from. A decentralized network with multiple players developing the best possible solutions for every aspect around mobility gives them the best solutions the chance to rise to prominence without these companies needing to develop parallel infrastructures individually. Blockchain technology is vital to this kind of arrangement, as it registers and secures the wealth of data that the interactions between disparate moving parts inevitably creates.

A decentralized network can be used as an ecosystem of connected component parts. By removing gatekeepers like administrators approving transactions, it becomes necessary for vehicles themselves to interact with charging stations and other vital infrastructure. One such application of this would be if several organizations have their own separate fleets of ride-hailing vehicles. Despite this being a traditionally “siloed” system, they can use the infrastructure that the network provides without interfering with each other. This is beneficial for the vehicle providers, as they no longer need to develop their own infrastructure for the fleet. By joining the network and using the services that already exist within it, they can reach the wider market more easily and focus more resources on their core products.

“The DAV protocol refers to a set of interconnected systems that create an open-source transportation infrastructure. The entire network is predicated on these protocols, making it highly scalable and ensuring it has no single point of failure. By decentralizing protocols around communication and transactions and open sourcing its technology stack, DAV fosters cooperation in an otherwise severely fragmented industry. Access to the DAV Network is permissionless; new players can enter the market and quickly scale up their participation in the transportation economy”, Frazer added.

Frazer explained that open-sourcing DAV’s network technology helps to eliminate barriers preventing companies from positively interacting with each other and utilizing the wealth of innovative solutions that are otherwise siloed away. In the AV sector, even the greatest successes are restricted by either company or geography, limiting the wider applications of the technologies in the real world. Enabling different entities from different manufacturers to communicate with each other, for example, vehicles and charging stations is in an important part of spreading the success of this industry as far and wide as possible.

By employing an open-source model DAV is able to push innovation to the edge, giving more participants control over the pace and direction of innovation, and fuelling creativity. Each participant, (be it customer to vehicle) on the network has a unique ID, which allows the system to track the transactions and create smart contracts that stay on that ID’s history. All members of the network communicate in a decentralized manner in two different ways: on-blockchain or off-blockchain.

On-blockchain communication is where all smart contracts are signed, and where all payments and other transactions happen, taking advantage of the blockchain’s strengths when it comes to exchanging, securing and confirming information. Off-blockchain communication is where vehicles, infrastructure, and service providers communicate. For example, an AV would be subscribed to a certain amount of service providers or infrastructure providers would be subscribed to a certain number of vehicles. An AV could send a message that it is looking for a charging station, parking space or service station and the relevant stations nearby would respond back with bids. The vehicle would then proceed to choose the best bid and drive to get the service required.

Anyone can join the network, as it is meant to be a public commons for Transport, much as the World Wide Web is a commons for content. Generally, participants will be providers or consumers (or both), with the latter being the ones who use the services and infrastructure on the network. Consumers can actually refer to both people and vehicles themselves when using things like charging services or mapping technology, Frazer added.

Providers can split into several categories. For instance, vehicle providers are the companies that provide vehicles for on-demand services, infrastructure providers supply the network with charging station, docking, and parking. Service providers offer the maintenance necessary to the infrastructure and vehicles underpinning much of the wider network.

Additionally, arbitrators and Insurance providers are the third parties of the system. They are essential for providing on-demand insurance contracts on the blockchain, and for providing independent dispute resolution. Perhaps most fundamental to the network itself are the final category of DAV members, the software and hardware providers who develop the open-source platform of custom services that are accessible to everyone on the network. The DAV Network can be accessed by all these participants using a DAV Token. These tokens are used to purely grant access to the network, and cannot be used in any other way.

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Last Update: May 25, 2018