The transport industry has undoubtedly evolved over the last century. However, it’s safe to say that there have been no seismic disruptions in transport since the Ford Motor Company started mass producing cars for the US market in the early 1900s. While it’s true that the introduction of Uber in 2009 convened transport and smartphone technology to great effect. However, while Uber disrupted the passenger vehicle model, it didn’t bring significant change to the overall transportation infrastructure.
The slow evolution of the transport and broader mobility industry has led to societal problems. The average citizen of Los Angeles spent more than four days in 2017 sitting in congested traffic. Nevertheless, people are showing n o signs of stopping to drive. In Southeast Asia for example, vehicle sales in fact went up by 8.1% in 2017. In an effort to cut down on car emissions and fight rising pollution levels, Madrid has now taken the step of banning non-resident vehicles from the city center. Such problems result from a transportation industry that is fragmented and highly inefficient.
Cars are not the only problem. Since we developed a voracious appetite for online shopping, the shipping industry is also experiencing heavy costs and inefficiencies. This is due to the volume of widely dispersed business-to-consumer deliveries overtaking business-to-business shipments, which tend to be based around hubs.
Given the long evolution of the current industry, this inefficiency is hardly surprising. However, advancements in technology are now set to cause disruption in the world of mobility.
Driverless cars are the subject of much hype and will undoubtedly feature in the transportation infrastructure of the future. Such autonomous vehicles will rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). However, autonomous vehicles are only one component of the transport environment of the future.
Autonomous vehicles will operate as part of vast, decentralized networks, which will enable them to communicate with one another as well as interact with their surroundings and react to emerging situations.
For example, smart infrastructure like traffic lights and road signals will automatically direct traffic away from busier routes to stop congestion from happening. Public transport will become reactively available depending on users requirements, rather than being on a set schedule regardless. Maintenance issues will be detected and repaired before accidents ever occur and multipurpose vehicles will operate on demand, delivering parcels while also conveying passengers.
All this is not just speculation. The industry is already taking active steps in this direction. For example:
• Maersk and IBM have deployed blockchain solution Tradelens, bringing together 94 companies and institutions across the shipping industry. The solution has been shown to reduce shipping time by up to 40%, saving thousands of dollars per shipment
• IoT technology is now enabling “predictive maintenance” of trains,using sensors and data analysis to detect when maintenance is needed. This saves money by prolonging the life cycle of train fleets and reducing delays caused by broken-down trains
• Amazon and UPS have been trialing deliveries using autonomous drones
• Porsche reported that it was testing the use of blockchain in vehicle access, using the technology to lock and unlock cars via a smartphone app, which has important applications in the area of car rental and sharing
The Role of Blockchain
Blockchain is proving to be a critical part of the transport technology revolution. Decentralized networks will empower vehicles and infrastructure to communicate, as well as permanently record all AI decisions and IoT sensor data. This will create transparency and trust enabling further adoption and scaling of innovative efforts.
Digital payments will also feature, with tolls and taxes deducted automatically from online wallets based on vehicle location tracking services.
The industry is preparing itself for a decentralized world by aggregating around blockchain and related technologies.
There are two groups focused on actualizing blockchain in the space: Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative (MOBI) comprising some of the biggest names in the automotive industry, and Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), who are focusing on global delivery infrastructure. Both are aiming to overcome the fragmentation that currently exists and ensure common standards across the industry.
There are also blockchain companies working towards this goal. DAV Network is a blockchain initiative with the goal of creating a decentralized, peer-to-peer global transportation network. Using the DAV Network, any two players can connect around the supply and demand of transportation services. This can include manned or autonomous vehicles.
Such a decentralized transport network can unite today’s transport solutions of manned deliveries, Uber-style ride-sharing, and city bicycle rental schemes. The company is also preparing for future scenarios such as drone deliveries, autonomous shipments, and driverless ride-sharing initiatives.
Although still in development, the DAV Network has reached significant milestones such as completing its first autonomous drone delivery and launching the network itself earlier this year. Based on Ethereum, they are using smart contracts to manage connections on the network. Another project called Velocia is running a similar project, although with less of a focus on the future of autonomous vehicles.
Other blockchain players are targeting mobility applications, albeit with more specific goals. FOAM has recently concluded a successful token sale and is building consensus-driven geolocation services which can be used by autonomous vehicles. BlockArray is building enterprise blockchain solutions for the logistics and shipping industry and decentralized peer-to-peer sharing marketplaces such as ShareRing as well as Origin have clear applications in the area of ride sharing.
The mobility industry has not experienced any major shakeup in decades, so all of this innovation is likely to cause a significant shift in the existing mobility sector. Although steps are being made, the big question of how the fragmented mobility industry will ultimately adapt to the oncoming challenges of decentralization remains.