Sadie Williamson

@sadiewilliamson

Blockchain May Be the Answer to Making Self Driving Cars Safer

Image source: BBC News

A few days ago, Uber, the world largest taxi sharing company, got into trouble after one of its self-driving cars hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.

According to the Guardian, footage released by the police shows that the SUV’s LIDAR and radar system failed to detect the victim even though she was visible in front of the car before the collision.

The Uber accident underlines what have been on the minds of most of us; just how safe are self-driving cars compared to their human-operated counterparts?

While there isn’t enough data to determine whether autonomous cars are safer than human-driven ones, the premise behind the technology seems to suggest so. The self-driving technology involves highly sensitive cameras and sensors equipped with the latest technology in AI and Machine Learning.

But as is evident in the Uber case, this technology is still not perfect, and there is a lot that needs to be done before it is rolled out for mass consumption. The accuracy, speed and consistency of the sensors and the cameras need to be improved so they can detect objects in milliseconds and respond accordingly.

Even when this is mostly a function of AI and Machine Learning, blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies may have some contributions to make to increase the safety of self-driving cars. The technology behind driverless cars largely depends on big data which must be collected, analyzed and utilized in a split second and with high precision.

Blockchain, on the other hand, is more about ensuring data transparency and accuracy while protecting it from manipulation. According to a report by the MIT Technology Review, malicious cyber attacks are a significant challenge to the adoption of the autonomous car technology. While advancement in AI and Machine Learning are likely to solve the issue of collisions that occur due to a technical error, they may not be able to resolve the technology’s vulnerability to hacking.

Imagine what would happen if terrorist hackers accessed the databases of some self-driving cars in a crowded street or on a high-speed highway? The aftermath would be catastrophic especially when the cars are modified to be controlled by a centralized body.

Blockchain introduces the concept of a transparent and decentralized ledger where data can be verified and stored securely. This technology could help the driverless cars to verify the accuracy of the data when they collect it from the environment, meaning that the room for error would be very minimal.

Also, the storage of the data in a blockchain system guarantees safety from hackers given the immutable nature of the technology. Even though it is theoretically possible to hack blockchain, the level of computing power to hack all computers on a blockchain is nearly impossible. Similarly, with a blockchain powered self-driving car, there would be no downtimes in network connectivity. In a centralized system like the one used by Uber, there is a likelihood of a system failure triggered by connectivity issues. This means that there is a high chance of accidents occurring during a network breakdown.

The application of blockchain in the driverless car technology will not only ensure safety from crashes but is also guarantees to users that their personal data is safe. In the traditional model, hackers can easily access users’ data such as their names, addresses and payment details and use it against them.

In a driverless taxi powered by blockchain, user information including their names and specific pick up and drop off points are stored in a distributed and highly secured ledger making it impossible for hackers to access.

Apart from ensuring safety, the technology would improve the way taxis charge clients and keep track of their accounts. The smart contracts technology has the power to make the payment process smooth by ensuring that each party maintains their part of the bargain and in the event of a dispute, an amicable solution is reached without involving third parties. Taxi owners would also find it easier to track and securely store their financial records.

As the driverless car technology continues to advance, there are a lot of areas in blockchain to be explored. Maybe in a few years to come, a solution that perfectly combines AI, Machine Learning and blockchain to perfect the driver-less car technology will be available.

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