Transportation & MobilityMay 8, 2018

Mobility Meets Blockchain; Data Privacy, Supply Chain Loom Large

Few things get the business juices flowing like platforms and ecosystems, with…
Avatar John Martin

Few things get the business juices flowing like platforms and ecosystems, with the raft of opportunities that follows in their wake. Transportation and mobility companies, along with blockchain providers, have taken a step toward creating this network effect with the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative (MOBI), designed to promote standards and blockchain adoption in the mobility market.

The open-source initiative imagines blockchain usage across a tasting menu of mobility elements—digital identity and history, location in space and time, supply chain, congestion fees, autonomous machine payments, mobility commerce platform, driving-data markets, carbon pricing, car and ride sharing, usage-based insurance and taxes, and pollution levies.

A bunch of automotive heavyweights have signed on, including BMW, Bosch, Ford, General Motors, and Renault; on the blockchain side are companies like BigchainDB, Context Labs, Hyperledger, and IBM, among others. MOBI also includes technology providers, consulting firms, and technology startups, and has established relationships with other consortia, academia, and various agencies.

Heading up the nonprofit is Chris Ballinger, former CFO and director of mobility services at the Toyota Research Institute. “Blockchain and related trust enhancing technologies are poised to redefine the automotive industry and how consumers purchase, insure and use vehicles,” Ballinger said, in a May 2 kickoff announcement. “By bringing together automakers, suppliers, startups, and government agencies, we can accelerate adoption for the benefit of businesses, consumers and communities.”

Blockchain provides a way to track transactions, goods, and events via a common digital ledger with mechanisms for consensus, authentication, and permissions. In a typical value chain, the parties record and maintain their own information. With blockchain, each transaction entry is linked via encryption, and the decentralized ledger is shared across the chain, reducing time spent chasing facts and figures.

It will be interesting to see how the consortium addresses data privacy, in light of recent issues with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Mobility services collect tons of data about people—who they are, how they pay, where they go—while blockchain’s claim to fame is secure transactions. Mobility will have to demonstrate to now skeptical consumers that blockchain can safeguard the jewels—personal information—and not just reduce friction in the transactions.

Supply chain is also key. Blockchain dangles the promise of each event and transaction being immediately network-viewable to all parties across mobility’s deep supply chains. Zero latency will help mobility services track goods and information, make achievable commitments, and see where they might need to adapt schedules or strategies to unexpected events or changed market conditions.

“From the handling of vehicle ID numbers and collision histories to the complex supply chains that lead to assembly lines and dealerships, blockchain offers new levels of data security and transparency,” said Teodore Lio, managing director and industrial and automotive innovation lead at Accenture.

Hats off to MOBI’s aspirations—launching a scalable value chain, through a simplified, standardized way of identifying cars, people, and trips and collecting payments, while exchanging and monetizing data without trampling property rights and privacy.

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