Toyota Is Exploring Blockchain Technology For Autonomous Vehicles

On May 22, 2017, the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) announced it is experimenting with blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) for use within a new mobility ecosystem that could potentially fast-track autonomous driving technology development. Chris Ballinger, director of mobility services and chief financial officer at TRI, explained the reasoning behind this project:

“Hundreds of billions of miles of human driving data may be needed to develop safe and reliable autonomous vehicles. Blockchains and distributed ledgers may enable pooling data from vehicle owners, fleet managers, and manufacturers to shorten the time for reaching this goal, thereby bringing forward the safety, efficiency and convenience benefits of autonomous driving technology.”

The project is aimed at nurturing a digital environment where businesses and consumers can securely share driving and autonomous vehicle testing data, control car/ride share transactions, and store vehicle usage information to reduce insurance rates. Additionally, TRI is establishing a user consortium in hopes of inspiring further adoption and development of autonomous vehicle mobility services.

TRI will be partnering with MIT Media Lab, BigchainDB, Oaken Innovations, Commuterz, and Gem for this venture to develop proofs of concept and applications for the mobility ecosystem. TRI will also be extending invitations to other companies interested in developing blockchain and DLT applications for use of vehicle data and services.

According to John Gerryts, cofounder and CEO of Oaken Innovations, the project is still getting off the ground and doesn’t necessarily involve a marketing campaign. “At this point we are at a PoC stage -- there is not necessarily a go to market strategy, but rather building out the initial systems and proving that this can be done, and done securely, on blockchain.” He further stated, “Currently we have our functional Car-sharing/Short-Term Lease PoC interacting with a Toyota Prius.”

According to the release, TRI and its partners will focus primarily on three key areas within their mobility ecosystem. These areas will include the following:

Driving/Testing Data Sharing: With the assistance of onboard sensors and cloud technology, new vehicles will potentially enable companies and users to access, share, and monetize driving data in a secure marketplace using blockchain technology.

Car/Ride Share Transactions: In the future, blockchain and DLT tools will make it possible for vehicle owners to monetize rides, cargo space, and even the vehicle itself. With the assistance of blockchain technology, storage of vehicle data, such as usage, owner info, drivers, and passengers, can be validated between two parties via executable distributed code contracts to eliminate the need for financial intermediaries, which in turn will save users’ transaction surcharges. The system could also allow for the connectivity of vehicle functions such as remote locking/unlocking of doors and engine startup/shutdown.

Usage-Based Insurance: Blockchain technology could also help vehicle owners save money on insurance rates by utilizing vehicle sensors to collect and record vehicle data.

“I'm excited Toyota is spearheading this initiative that uses blockchain technology to create an open platform where users can control their driving data,” said Neha Narula, director of the Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. “Our hope is that other industry stakeholders will join this effort to bring safe and reliable autonomous vehicles one step closer to reality.”

TRI’s announcement comes days after the company joined the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance – an initiative to define a universal standard among enterprise Ethereum users.