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Mobility-as-a-Service on the Blockchain

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“You press a button. In a very short period of time, a car shows up.”

On a recent podcast, Chris Ballinger, CFO and Director of Mobility Services for the Toyota Research Institute, said:

“You press a button. In a very short period of time, a car shows up. Takes you where you want to go, drops you off. The negotiation of payment, who you are, your reputation, the car’s reputation, the contract… All of those are potential applications for the kinds of things that Blockchain does so well”

Toyota is betting on Blockchain heavily. Truth be told: the problem with everybody owning a car, is that cars are effectively underutilized. On average, cars are parked 95% of the time. Yes, you read that right. On top of that, owning a car comes with fixed costs: insurance, maintenance, parking, driving license renewals, etc. Is that overhead worth it if you’re only using your car 5% of the time?

Mobility-as-a-Service

Toyota is betting on a future where mobility is practiced on demand. In other words, mobility becomes a service rather than a resource you own.

There is a fleet of autonomous cars in a city (either stationed or roaming around), and you request one by using an application on your device. The car takes you where you want to go, you pay for ride and you get off. It then becomes available again to drive somebody else.

The ecosystem

Since there is nobody driving the car, it must be capable of finding a recharging station — and all other services it needs — all by itself.

Of course, companies like Toyota don’t plan to deploy recharging stations everywhere in the world for their vehicles. Instead, they envision an economy/ecosystem of services surrounding the car, much like there are petrol stations, car washes, insurance companies, etc. all around the globe.

But the key difference with today is that the car must be able to communicate with those services, as well as perform trades immediately: by exchanging currency or some other token representing value. Hello, Smart Contracts.

Creating a single central database in the world for all these partners and transactions is impracticable.

Who would own it? Would it comply with all legal regulations across the globe? How secure would it be? Who would manage it?

Centralization is not the answer. Enter the blockchain.

Transactions on the Blockchain

So say you’ve called an autonomous vehicle and it’s about to pick you up. I will abbreviate “transaction” with TX.

Imagine this flow:

  1. Insurance: The vehicle has an insurance policy, but since it was not carrying a human until it picked you up, it only covers the car.
  2. As soon as you hop on, the vehicle upgrades the policy to cover one human (you). It does this by making a TX with a smart contract that covers the car + 1 human until the estimated time of arrival (ETA).
  3. Toll roads: It starts driving. But alas, it needs to access a toll road. It makes a TX on the blockchain with another smart contract to pay the toll. A deposit is paid upfront for the entire length of the toll road.
  4. It continues driving. When it leaves the toll road, it makes another TX with the previous smart contract. It gets the deposit back, minus the cost of the trip on the toll road (based on the number of kilometers).
  5. Payment: It drops you off at the destination. You pay the car by issuing a TX on the blockchain. The car pays the vehicle + 1 human insurance fee, prorated by the amount of time you actually spent in the car (both the start and the end of the trip were registered on the blockchain). The car then downgrades the insurance to a “zero humans” coverage.
  6. Battery and soiling: The car notices it’s low on battery and it’s also dirty. You littered a bit. So it charges you a soiling fee via the blockchain, and also decreases your reputation by –1 points by making another TX on the blockchain.
  7. Recharging: Since it has collected your transportation fee, plus the soiling charge, it first finds a recharging station and recharges itself. It pays the owner of the station (it could be someone’s home!) via a TX on the blockchain.
  8. Cleaning: Then it goes to a cleaning service (is this human-operated or automated? If human… is this what we’ve been relegated to? ?) and pays via a TX on the blockchain, to get itself shiny and hospitable again.

It is now available to pick up another passenger. That is, unless this happens to it:

 
A trap for self driving cars

About the author

My name is Raúl Kripalani and I’m a backend & distributed systems engineer, turned into a Blockchain geek and consultant.

Feel free to connect with me on Twitter and/or LinkedIn.

If you want to reach out directly: raul@consensusx.com.

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