Though much of the clamor behind cryptocurrency abated over the last year, the legitimacy of the blockchain technology that fuels the currency is beyond doubt. Blockchain is now in different levels of adoption across various verticals, as businesses run pilot tests to see how well it fits their niche.
One such use case would be track-and-trace of ships and aircraft, which has been a long-standing problem in the maritime and aviation industries, particularly in regard to accidents and lost cargo. The World Shipping Council estimated that 568 containers on average were lost at sea each year between 2008 and 2016, excluding catastrophic events. The number balloons to 1,582 containers lost every year when catastrophic events are taken into account.
Cargo is not the only thing to be lost forever, with a poignant example being the MH370 aircraft crash into the Indian Ocean in 2014. The debris hunt following the disaster cost the Malaysian government upwards of $70 million, but the elaborate year-long seabed exploration had little to show for it, with the circumstances that led to the crash still inconclusive. MH370’s black box, a device that stores critical flight information at the time of an incident, was never found either.
Efforts have been made to let ground stations store information coming in from aircraft, rather than storing them on black boxes – but all in vain. Pilot associations have been vocal against the idea, as storing data in the cloud or transmitting it could mean that the data might be hacked, unlike having it stored in a physical database on the flight which is relatively safer (in that regard). The backlash that resulted led to the idea being dropped altogether.
The situation in the maritime industry is no different. The International Maritime Organization mandates all vessels to have a Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) onboard. The VDR is an instrument that continuously records critical information coming from the ship operations, which has a 12-hour window for recording, after which new data coming in is written over the previously stored data. VDRs, much like the aircraft black boxes, are hard to retrieve in case of a major catastrophe, making it hard for monitoring organizations to learn what went wrong.
BlocBox, a Singapore-based startup, seeks to solve this problem by using blockchain to collect and encrypt information that is stored locally (on airplanes and ships) – as is the case in black boxes and VDRs – and transmit it to an immutable ledger platform that makes it safe for data storage and retrieval.
The real-time data is encrypted and transmitted through satellite infrastructure, with only the office in charge of operations having access to the data being stored. As this process is powered through blockchain, data can be accessed instantly and at a negligible cost, making it easier for risk mitigation teams to process information rapidly in the event of a disaster and hasten to an accident site.
Blockchain has made significant inroads in the transportation industry, especially in the maritime industry as it remains fomented in chaos, with hundreds of stakeholders oscillating around in its supply chain. Major container lines like CMA CGM and COSCO Shipping have joined together to form a consortium called the Global Shipping Business Network (GSBN) that would work on creating an open platform based on blockchain’s distributed ledger technology. Maersk has partnered with IBM to introduce TradeLens, a platform that uses blockchain to streamline the global maritime network.
Meanwhile, with nearly 500 members from over 25 countries, the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) is at the forefront of open blockchain standards, looking to drive the adoption of distributed ledger technology into mainstream transport operations.
Consortiums are key in this framework, because without collaboration the concept of blockchain is meaningless. Different verticals within the transportation industry would need to work hand-in-glove with stakeholders to make seamless track-and-trace a reality – potentially saving the industry millions of dollars and hundreds of man-hours in redundant operations.