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Blockchain provides trustability in the age of mobility services and autonomous vehicles

Blockchain provides trustability in the age of mobility services and autonomous vehicles (Photo: Shutterstock)

Harry Behrens, head of the blockchain factory, Daimler Financial Services, spoke at the Blockchain Europe expo in Amsterdam, highlighting the disruption that awaits mobility systems and how blockchain can be leveraged to provide trustability and enable end-to-end real-time financial transactions without manual intervention.

“Private ownership is going down, and mobility is going towards a stage where it is delivered as a service. And before fully autonomous vehicles are a reality, we will have semi-autonomous vehicles that will require vehicles and devices to transact on their own,” said Behrens.

Mobility services are not about disrupting technology, but rather an evolution of business models, which Behrens explained was made possible by software platforms, giving rise to possibilities like on-demand ridesharing and multi-billion dollar gig economies.

“If you look at operators like Uber, they are asset-light – they don’t own vehicles. They don’t have a problem now because they have drivers who bring the fleet with them. However, this is getting split already, as there are fleets where drivers match on-demand. And with autonomous vehicles, there obviously are no more drivers,” said Behrens.

For the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), the ground is quickly sinking beneath their feet. OEMs will need to innovate and move towards on-demand mobility and autonomous vehicles if they want to weather the mobility services storm. Most of the major OEMs are now working to develop self-driving technology and to acquire or spin-off on-demand mobility services.

Behrens explained that for this business model to scale, it is essential to phase out human intervention within the ecosystem – be it as drivers or at the back office. “In the future, the mobility ecosystems will evolve from being siloed business models to ones that have several capabilities – like charging, parking, toll collection, rental service – all coming together to deliver a service,” he said. “A customer will only be asked simple things like vehicle type, time of the lease and miles to be traveled. All other things can be settled fully end-to-end in real-time with no human intervention and through software.”

It is inevitable that such an ecosystem has trust at its core, because for it to function seamlessly will involve pushing data coming out of the vehicle to the remote processing network – leading to the rise of a true end-to-end scalable business model.

“Everyone speaks of smart contracts. To have one, the very least you’d need is the capability for at least two parties to sign the contract. And it is extremely important in mobility to figure out who are your identified parties – the customer that’s being driven and the car that does the driving,” said Behrens.

Identifying a user within a blockchain-powered network is simple – by the address of the person’s digital wallet. Behrens pointed out that the word ‘wallet’ was a misnomer, as its primary use was to recognize a person using its unique address. This helps identify a person and thus can allow the wallet holder to sign transactions without the need for further verification.

“All this comes together in a semi-autonomous vehicle. Such vehicles will need to transact on their own. There’s a lot of ticketing involved like parking, charging, fueling, toll collection. If you’re my customer and you’re paying for the service, you aren’t going to pay for all these tickets, as it is something I need to take care of to deliver the service to you,” said Behrens.

In the end, the devil is in the details. The numerous B2B transactions that occur within the mobility services ecosystem hinge precariously on the accuracy behind identifying both the vehicle and the person using its mobility services. Blockchain, with its immutable ledger and concrete identification possibilities, offers a solution that is both foolproof and generates trust.