Quick note before we begin. By smart we mean the adjective, not the car brand. That would be Smart Smart cars on blockchains. Maybe next time.

Distributed Ledger Technology is set to amplify the already huge expectations we have for the self-driven, autonomously navigated, drink-and-driverless world of tomorrow, making the once human interactions between vehicles and their environments seamless and instantly available to the constantly communicating fleet of spaceships.

Cars*.

The future is now

There are times when you feel you can almost reach out and touch the future. When ideas discussed and debated for decades begin to take shape before your eyes. When science-fiction blends with and becomes real life.

Autonomous vehicles have been a talking point for a long, long time. In 2018 they’re close as ever. They exist, they’re just not completely ready to be rolled out on a large scale yet — meaning there’s enough time for the next technological revolution, Distributed Ledger Technology, to have an effect on them before they do.

Paving the way for DLT’s application in autonomous vehicles is its application in their predecessor, smart cars. The face of motoring is being altered by a diverse array of emerging technologies. Blockchain is joining the likes of the Internet, AI/ML and Robotics in powering the future of transportation by pushing the boundaries in terms of versatility, cost-reduction and autonomy, while introducing unparalleled levels of transparency, trust and security.

What are Smart Cars?

Smart cars are vehicles that make use of high-end technology like sensors, light detection, ranging equipment, cameras and connectivity hardware to offer a more futuristic driving experience. Smart cars may or may not be autonomous, you can think of autonomous vehicles as being a branch of the term ‘Smart Cars’, and possibly their next evolutionary step.

Autonomous vehicles are a recent phenomenon where old players like BMW, Ford and General Motors are competing with new entrants like Google and Tesla in developing intelligent automobiles capable of functioning without a human at the wheel.

This new era of digitisation is transforming how vehicles interact with each other and their environment. Completely autonomous vehicles that can refuel, recharge, and park on their own, even pay for these services are on the horizon. The concept of smart cars, however, goes beyond autopilot.

Information Overload

Today’s cars are increasingly reliant on hardware and software to function. Cars of tomorrow will be equally reliant on connected infrastructure. Technologies like AI and smart connectivity will enable car owners to communicate with their vehicles and access information and services. The key, then, is how these modern vehicles interact with the world. These data sources are so powerful that current solutions for processing are largely insufficient.

The ‘smart’ element in Smart Cars is made possible by collecting, communicating, using and processing data from a variety of different sources, including the vehicle itself and its surrounding, as well other vehicles, road infrastructure, the manufacturer and service providers. And where there’s information recording and exchange, there’s potential for fraud, downtime and mistrust — precisely what DLT is capable of tackling.

A conservative estimate is that an average user generates more than 0.77 GB of data per day. Multiply that with the forecast of 81.57 million cars that will be sold in 2018 across the globe, and you are dealing with an astounding amount of data.

Most vendors believe that hundreds of billions of miles of human driving data may be needed to develop safe and reliable autonomous vehicles. Decentralised and distributed networks powered by DLT are not only logical here, but necessary.

Smart Cars & DLT

Smart cars are designed to seamlessly take over human interactions between the vehicle and their environments. The decentralised nature of certain Distributed Ledger Technologies is ideal for recording and sharing data without the presence of a middle man.

For carmakers the impact of blockchain is not limited to one or two processes, but touches on each and every interaction in the automobile ecosystem.

Here are a few ways the Smart Cars of the future will benefit from DLT:

  • Communication: Blockchain based systems facilitate secure communication between vehicle systems, driver and/or passenger devices, as well as the external networks to allow drivers and passengers to remain connected to the outside world while on the road.
  • Sensor Data: Vehicle sensors can collect data and store it on immutable ledgers, where it can be pooled together for use by vehicle owners, fleet managers, car manufacturers, spare part makers and road authorities.
  • Smart Contracts & Automation: Smart contracts are poised to drive automation to a new level, where vehicles can securely interact by themselves under the conditions set by their users.
  • Security: Unlike consumer devices, cars require much higher standards of safety, security and privacy. Imagine being able to hack a car and you’ll get the idea. The more connected a vehicle is, the more it is susceptible to cyberattacks. Distributed Ledger Technology can serve to mitigate this very real risk.

The first steps have already been taken

Experts estimate that 250 million connected cars will be on roads by 2020, with each vehicle equipped with more than 200 sensors, connected infotainment systems and cloud informatics.

No surprises then, that car makers have quietly been moving ahead with blockchain in a quest to find different ways how distributed ledgers can be utilised in vehicles.

IOTA and Volkswagen recently demonstrated a concept using Tangle for autonomous cars, while BMW has started using blockchain to track that the cobalt they use in manufacturing is ethically mined.

Mercedes has a safe driving program, Porsche has introduced blockchain apps, while Ford and Baidu have joined hands to develop smarter cars in China. Toyota, has also jumped into the game, teaming up with MIT Media Lab to use blockchain to speed up autonomous vehicle technology.

And then there are influential global consortiums like MOBI and R3CEV that count both car makers and parts producers as members.

Smart cars are now a reality, with blockchain underpinning this revolution of driverless vehicles where your car not only knows you, but also caters and works for you — even when you are not driving it. A change a century in the making.