How Can Blockchain Make Autonomous Vehicles Safer?

In this guest post, John Frazer, CCO of DAV takes a look at how blockcahain can help secure the future of autonomous vehicles.

 

Back in 2016, it was estimated that there will be 10 million self-driving cars  on the road by 2020. Seeing that we are halfway there, time-wise, it is safe to say that the science-fiction future of autonomous vehicles is almost upon us.

As the biggest tech companies in the world pour resources into autonomous vehicle (AV) research, the chief concern on most people’s minds is safety.

When we drive, we trust our senses, reflexes and communication with other motorists to keep us safe. Understandably, many drivers are reluctant or outright unwilling to trust a computer to reliably perform these duties and keep them safe.

The majority of AV tests have been incredibly safe and promising regarding widespread use. There are, however, legitimate concerns over safety from certain authorities. These concerns, coupled with incidents in which autonomous vehicles have failed to react appropriately in public situations, has led to the widespread attitude towards self-driving cars not being as hopeful as it perhaps should be.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra believes that the answer to taking AVs from pilot schemes in specially constructed towns to populating the roads lies in communication. In an interview with Business Insider, Barra explained:

The key with autonomous is the whole ecosystem. One of the keys to having truly fully autonomous is vehicles talking to each other.

Though communication between autonomous vehicles is undoubtedly necessary for the continued evolution of the technology, it brings with it a number of issues. Data communicated between AVs may take many different forms, with vehicles analysing data based on their users’ travel habits to ensure a consistently high level of service. Autonomous forms of public transport or taxis may store a wealth of financial data, perhaps the AV data most attractive to hackers.

Chief among these issues is that opening up a previously closed system risks exposing it to malicious influences. Wireless communication methods such as WiFi and Bluetooth both present easy entry points for hackers if not properly secured. 

Remote Control

Beyond data security, of concern is the vulnerability of AVs to being remotely controlled. Individuals taking control of one or more autonomous vehicles could pose a serious threat to the public, with US transport regulators recently debating whether law enforcement should be able to shut AVs down remotely. Following Uber’s recall of their autonomous fleet after a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona was tragically killed, further incidents involving AVs – be they remote or self-controlled – could be disastrous for the industry.

Where Blockchain Comes In

A possible solution to AV security concerns lies in the use of blockchain technology, which offers a decentralised, distributed ledger virtually uncrackable in its design. While theoretically hackable, the processing power required to break into a blockchain-based system is nigh impossible to attain, essentially making pursuing the data that AVs would collect not worth hackers’ time and money.

Through blockchain, attempts at unauthorised access to control systems for AVs or to data collected by them would be recognised and rejected almost instantly, keeping both drivers and pedestrians safe. Even if the blockchain security was to somehow be cracked, effects would be minimal in comparison to a centralised body which could provide access to all vehicles at once.  

AV safety concerns expand beyond the realm of money-hungry cybercriminals, however. In order to operate safely in an unpredictable traffic system, AVs need to be able to collect and analyse tremendous amounts of data within milliseconds. In the case of road traffic accidents, reaction speed can mean the difference between safety and serious injury or worse.  Though any AV system may still experience accidents as a result of human error, an effective and fast method of interpreting incoming data could minimise them.

Blockchain may be the very solution that AVs require to the problem of data analysis speed. The technology allows for an incredibly fast transfer of data, with rigorous testing by Japanese banking interests finding it to be capable of processing 1500 transactions per second, significantly faster than the current system.

Employing the same principle as in the banking tests, blockchain could provide AVs with the ability to interpret hundreds of pieces of information per second, allowing them to constantly be reacting to external influences and ready to take action faster than any human could. 

Though the majority of the conversation surrounding AVs extolls the virtues of their AI systems, highly advanced sensors and machine learning processes, it may well be blockchain which facilitates their eventual widespread acceptance and implementation. The technology could well be a solution to the most glaring safety concerns with AVs, but that is not the only way it could help secure their future. Blockchain’s transparency and ease of use could result in a massive ecosystem of autonomous vehicles, fostering rapid innovation and greater trust between manufacturers and road users.