An ethereum wallet for every car?
It's no secret cars have become more connected, but a new concept from a trio of big-name institutions is taking today's futuristic ideas further with a new blockchain prototype that envisions how transportation could be driven by automated payments.
That's the vision behind a new blockchain project called Car eWallet, developed jointly by German auto parts maker ZF Friedrichshafen, the innogy Innovation Hub (a spin-off of german utility giant RWE) and Swiss Bank UBS.
Car eWallet, announced earlier this month, is envisioned as an elaborate network for electric vehicles, one in which cars would pay for tolls, parking spaces and electrical charging via machine-to-machine transactions - all with a blockchain network at its core.
As explained by innogy decentralized technology lead Carsten Stocker at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this month, the idea is to marry a number of ideas to facilitate the development of automotive networks.
It starts, according to Stocker, with the vehicle itself.
He told CoinDesk:
"It's an autonomous car. The cars can make the decisions, where to charge, what kind of lease it uses, what kind of service. The idea is it can independently interact with the services."
The Car eWallet would be embedded in the car's electronic control unit (ECU) and connected to a private blockchain. The wallet would then be pre-loaded via a computer or smartphone application, which would allow transactions between users.
Nodes, in turn, would be placed in charging stations, facilitating and securing the network.
Apart from charging or parking, the companies explained, such wallets could even be how ridesharing firms come to transact with their customers in the years ahead, he said.
Elements of design
While this may sound like another far-fetched use of blockchain, Stocker disagrees.
To him, the idea utilizes core features of a blockchain network that make it an ideal technology for this use case. For one, he said, it allows for a decentralized system, meaning that it can include a wide network of users, some of whom don't necessarily have trusted relationships.
Stocker explained that gas station users who pay in cash today have an untrusted relationship with the station, a relationship that could be recreated on a blockchain.
"It's about economically viable nano-transactions. It's about secure business logic, there's no credit risks in terms of the transactions," he said.
Likewise, each partner on the network will contribute a unique function to the whole project.
UBS, Stocker said, is looking more deeply at the customer experience, while ZF is handling application of the technology within the vehicle, and innogy is seeking to answer questions about connecting IoT (Internet of Things) devices to the blockchain itself.
This includes notable challenges, like examining how text changes to a smart contract may be adjusted on the wider network (a strong area of focus for many enterprises entering 2017) and also the handling of taxation and regulatory requirements.
Stocker sees the concept as more than a novel technology being developed for the sake of it.
A main feature of the idea is convenience. Users can customize the amount of money that the eWallet can spend automatically, allowing drivers to save time and avoid some some of the hassles often encountered while driving.
"For example, on the morning drive to the office, the car will automatically pay a toll, thus saving the driver the trouble of waiting in line at a tollbooth," ZF stated in a press release.
"The driver is then notified while still in transit and the user receives updates online of every payment transaction made by the Car eWallet."
Another problem that ZF hopes to solve is the sometimes convoluted payment systems at electric vehicle charging stations.
The company notes that different charging stations use varying forms of payment, such as using their own charge cards. However, the eWallet has the potential to standardize payments, automatically transferring funds while the car is plugged in.
Right now, the effort is being piloted and tested on a private blockchain, but Stocker hinted that a larger, consortium blockchain could be forthcoming.
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), or firms that build car components for another company, could be among the participants in broader testing, he suggested.
While this may sound far-fetched, Stocker said it's an idea whose time is soon to come, citing as evidence Project Oaken - an ethereum blockchain app designed to be integrated into a Tesla vehicle, thereby allowing drivers to pay for tolls.
Other recent news events, he argued, are building momentum for the idea in the auto industry, including an acquisition by car maker Daimler AG that found it purchasing a digital payments company that also offers bitcoin services.
"It's clearly on the agenda."
Futuristic car image via Shutterstock