When the Blockchain Meets the Road

by Andy Heikkila

An Exciting Future vs. Government Regulation

The future of human travel is exciting. We conquered the skies when the Wright brothers took flight in 1903, only after turning our attention from the invention of the underground railway in London in the late 1800s. Since then, we’ve come to traverse the skies and subterranean tunnels packed in giant metal tubes, crammed next to friends and strangers alike–but those days could soon be over. Companies like AeroMobil and Terrafugia are actively working on flying cars now, while Elon Musk just unveiled plans to bore into the earth to create “traffic tubes”. From mass to personal transit above and below the earth, we’re quite an innovative species.

Before we get to the era of flying and tunnelling cars, however, it’s more likely that we’ll be dealing with a revolution on the pavement first. Advancements in modern robotics, A.I., and IoT automation mean that we’re well-on our way to seeing the precursor to flying and tunneling cars in the form of self-driving traditional automobiles–as long as government regulation doesn’t get in the way first.

The Green, Wireless, Automated Future

If we look back to the 80s at what people most valued in a car, you might find that horsepower, torque, and traction control topped the list. Nowadays, you’ll find that trends have followed Millennial interests and values, and that there’s a rising demand for green vehicles with eco-friendly features. People on this planet are increasingly concerned about the carbon footprint they’re leaving behind, and the auto industry is obviously ripe and waiting for reformative action.

Not only are more eco-friendly cars being produced, the burgeoning Internet of Things industry is transforming the automotive industry as well. Self-driving cars are becoming a reality, and once connected with one another could be so mileage efficient that we no longer even need traffic lights. By reducing probability of human error, self-driving cars could also save 300,000 lives per decade in America alone, according to Adrienne LaFrance writing for The Atlantic. Smaller perks include things like acting as an all-time dedicated driver, automated business mileage tracking for entrepreneurs, and a replacement for overnight flights, according to Audi.

Only after these conditions are met will we truly begin to see cars that fly through the sky–but still, the near future holds incredible promise… as long as we can secure the IoT.

When the Blockchain Meets the Road

The biggest problem with the IoT right now is a huge lack of security. Most recently, the “WannaCry” ransomware attack shut down hospitals and companies that have invested in microsoft computers at the core of their systems. Because everything is connected to the IoT nowadays, pretty much anything can be infected–and almost half the population is unaware of that fact. From baby monitors to internet-connected cameras, even to cars themselves, almost anything can be hacked.

Fortunately, a potential solution has surfaced in the form of the blockchain. For those unfamiliar with the technology, it’s essentially a new form of verification that allows for higher amounts of trust on the internet. It’s the underlying technology that fuels bitcoin and keeps the digital currency from being counterfeited–and it’s now finding its way into automobiles.

“The use of blockchain technology is expected to come in handy as the automotive industry moves towards increased digitization of onboard technologies that makes cars smarter. In addition, plans for rolling out autonomous vehicles and the increasing need for pushing over-the-air updates will increase the requirement for private and secure systems,” reports NewsBTC.

The PYMNTS news team also reported on the integration of big data and the blockchain into automobiles, mentioning that if car manufacturers would integrate said technology on the production line, you might have the answer for both privacy and security concerns. This might require regulatory oversight–which could end up being a fantastic solution, but could also represent a huge problem.

Big Government and the DSRC Problem

Ryan Hagemann, writing for Wired Magazine’s opinion column, sums up the problem of government meddling in innovation succinctly. “There’s little doubt that autonomous vehicles are the next frontier of transportation,” he writes. “Along the way, however, there are a number of roadblocks to surmount: infrastructure issues, restrictive state licensing policies, driver education, cybersecurity and privacy vulnerabilities, and more. For innovators, regulators, and policymakers, solving these problems will involve a long to-do list, but a pointless regulatory scuffle over technology standards should not be on it.”

The problem, as he describes it, comes down to federal regulation hindering innovation. This is exemplified in a recent debate over two leading contenders for mode of short-range communication between autonomous vehicles: Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) and next-generation wireless 5G networks. Some automobile manufacturers have already gone one way or the other, rolling cars off of the factory floor fitted with one or the other. The rub is that, unfortunately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also decided on one–and only one–over the other.

In a bid to support vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication standards, the NHTSA has already made a choice on the DSRC. According to Hagermann: “at best this is a waste of time, money, and government resources. At worst, this is a decision that could chill a generation of vehicular innovation and safety… this could lock up innovation and technological progress on American roadways for decades to come.”

A Future Without Answers… Yet

One of the big problems with the DSRC is that, even though it may have been seen as innovative at the time, the technology has become outdated. On top of that, the DSRC has “serious unresolved cybersecurity risks,” according to Hagermann.

Fortunately, many like cybersecurity expert Alex Kreilein have already noted these “weak privacy protections” and a susceptibility to “spread malware” in a recent report filing to the NHTSA.

As long as innovators fight on the side of progress, progress will be made. IoT and driverless car security might be hindered right now by the NHTSA and its weak DSRC V2V mandates–but with the promise of the blockchain and human innovation following closely behind, we’re sure to see a safe, secure, and automated revolution on the pavement sooner rather than later.

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Andrew HeikkilaAndrew Heikkila, a tech enthusiast, and writer from Boise, Idaho, and a frequent contributor to Innovation Excellence. He also writes for Tech Crunch. You can follow him @AndyO_TheHammer

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