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Today’s GPS needs an upgrade, and blockchain could be it.
For many months now, technology experts, futurists, and tech-focused bloggers have been detailing the slow and steady spread of blockchain technology throughout multiple industries. So far, it’s popped up in the global shipping industry, in major food supply chains, and is even set to take on a primary role in major stock exchanges around the world. Blockchain is even beginning to provide a medium to stitch together related industry segments, as is the case with platforms like Gamdom, which brings together online gamers, online gambling, and cryptocurrencies in a novel all-in-one solution.
Still, even with all of the progress so far, it’s fair to say that we’ve yet to see evidence of the kind of blockchain killer app that has spurred previous technology revolutions. That has thus far consigned blockchain to a few niche applications, which although innovative and useful, aren’t going to provide the mass adoption moment necessary to really mainstream the technology. It’s not that developers aren’t trying, though. In fact, there’s one place where blockchain is making inroads that might end up bringing the technology into almost every home and business in the developed world: as part of a new, more secure, global positioning system.
Photo: Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock
Ever since the US government made its’ military-grade GPS system available for public use, it has become one of the most-used and successful technologies the world has ever known. Today, it handles everything from tracking the ever-growing number of flights in our skies to helping farmers make better use of their land and everything in between. The system, although accurate in most circumstances to within about 15 feet, isn’t without its’ limitations, however.
In urban areas, GPS signals often fail to reach ground level through a thicket of tall buildings with little clearance between them. When they do, receivers on the ground must operate at maximum power just to maintain communication with at least three separate satellites to get an accurate location fix. Needless to say, it’s not very efficient. In addition, state actors and hackers are now turning to GPS spoofing, which calls the validity of any GPS fix into question. Now, blockchain developers hope to solve these very real issues with our current GPS system.
Photo: SasinParaksa / Adobe Stock
The primary advantages of blockchain systems are that they are decentralized, secure, and resilient. All three of those qualities might make it a perfect solution to the problems that plague today’s GPS system. That’s the main idea behind FOAM, which aims to provide verifiable geolocation services without the need for satellite connections.
It works by creating a kind of mesh network of location-verified terrestrial radios that allow for precise location triangulation. When combined with a blockchain backend, it then becomes possible to have a consensus-based, verified location written into an unalterable ledger. That would immediately solve both the signal penetration and spoofing issues common to today’s GPS systems if put into wide use.
FOAM isn’t the only company aiming to bring blockchain into the GPS space, though. Aerospace giant Boeing is also working on a system that would use blockchain as a failsafe location data repository for its’ planes. Their idea is also meant to help thwart potential spoofing attacks on conventional GPS signals. The idea is to create a permanent and unalterable record of location information aboard every plane in an airline’s fleet. That way, if the aircraft’s computer detected any kind of anomaly with the real-time GPS data, it could retrieve the correct information from its onboard blockchain database and continue to provide accurate data to the pilots without any interruption.
Photo: WrightStudio / Adobe Stock
Based on the development of blockchain-enabled GPS solutions so far, there’s a reason to believe that we may be seeing the birth of a real game-changing milestone in blockchain development. For example, one can imagine the open source FOAM protocol merging with the open source GPSWOX car tracking platform to create the kind of secure and resilient network needed to enable the wide-scale use of autonomous vehicles in the coming years without becoming beholden to a big corporate backer. It’s the kind of blockchain application that could guarantee that the government-backed GPS system of today isn’t replaced by one controlled by a single corporate entity — and that would be huge.
If it comes to pass, it might be the first blockchain application that finds its way into the hands of countless individuals and businesses, just as traditional GPS has. That would vault blockchain technology into the mainstream in a way that it so far hasn’t been able to achieve. At that point, for blockchain, the sky really would be the limit.