Blockchain technology has already been hugely significant, powering cryptocurrencies like bitcoin as well as technical systems influencing industries like shipping, international aid and agriculture.
But now, developers are set to ramp up research efforts around how the technology might be used as part of the new wave of ‘smart cities’, specifically around transportation self-driving vehicles.
Sponsored by BMW, a group called the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative has launched a four month competition to find new technologies around smart transportation, with the winning submissions to be presented in Munich next February.
Prizes currently exceed $1.25 million for submissions, and have been contributed by members of the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative, including Ocean Protocol and Beyond Protocol.
The project has been described as the first part of a three year study into mobility networks powered by the blockchain, which will ultimately focus on the likes of micropayments, non-GPS inter-vehicle communication and mobile networking.
Acknowledging the complexity of the task, MOBI CEO Chris Ballinger said they were expecting the most significant breakthroughs to emerge later in the project.
“We know that nobody is going to hit the home run in this first step. The technology is still immature. But we think this stuff will be possible within a few years.”
One of the most prominent use cases being explored is micropayments, which it had been suggested could eventually allow driverless vehicles to pay for priority access – for example, to pay a certain amount to bypass traffic.
However, Ballinger said that beyond this most basic example, micropayments could be used to incentivise data sharing, which could ultimately streamline traffic flows for everyone.
“The vision here is cars connecting with infrastructure and other vehicles in local ad hoc networks, sharing data, making a small payment.”
The technology could be used to allow driverless vehicles to essentially see round corners, which Ballinger believes could lead to automated speed adjustments to prevent the likelihood of accidents later in a journey.
The contest is one of many around blockchain development, and a fraction of the ongoing work around blockchain solutions for transport. Far beyond currencies like bitcoin, it shows the potential of the underlying blockchain technology for reshaping global industries and cities in the near future.