Predictions are never easy, but it certainly looks like automation is set to be the way of the future. Self-driving vehicles are just the beginning. As Ethereum and blockchain-based technologies advance, we will see a rise in the self-sovereignty of machines. One of the first steps toward complete machine autonomy is called the Car eWallet.
The Car eWallet is a concept currently being developed through several collaborating enterprises in Europe. German energy company, Innogy, teamed up with Swiss global financial services company, UBS, and automobile manufacturer, ZF, to work on the Car eWallet project. The idea behind this project is that an individual electric vehicle could have its own eWallet to store digital currency, then spend it on purchases such as automatically paying tolls or parking spaces. (Hanging rearview mirror fuzzy dice purchases exempt.)
One of the most promising functions of a car’s eWallet would allow a vehicle to pay for its own fuel. Innogy, UBS, and ZF are actively working toward building a more dilatant electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in Europe. Rather than using cash or card, you could simply use the value stored in your car’s eWallet to pay for EV charging time. An eWallet would also be able to accept payments for ride-sharing purposes directly, cutting out all middlemen. Ethereum is fully capable of powering these Dapps and, according to Innogy’s Dr. Carsten Stöcker, it’s the platform they’ve been prototyping on.”
ETHNews reached out to Dr. Stöcker to ask what he felt was the biggest obstacle with this project. He spoke about the complexity and the fact that several types of emerging technologies would need to work together for it to succeed. Dr. Stöcker said:
“The first issue is maturity of the technology, and it’s about integrating a lot of different technology puzzle pieces; because we are integrating IoT, we are integrating algorithms, we are integrating blockchain, we are integrating decentralized file storage, smart contract technology, [and] formal verification so that we really are sure that smart contracts, and code, and business logic, is behaving as expected [.]”
The maturity of these technologies, or rather lack thereof, could be a potential roadblock on the path to widespread adoption of a project like this. While it’s possible to make a car with an eWallet, it wouldn’t be very useful if no one is able to accept payment from that wallet. Devices, such as toll booths and parking space machines, need to be able to interact with the vehicle. While EV charging stations are becoming more popular, they don’t always include “smart” functionality.
Smart EV charging stations will be very useful when self-driving vehicles become more popular. According to a survey by ReportLinker, “more than 60% of surveyed Americans say they are somewhat or very positive about autonomous cars,” but 63% of American consumers still have self-driving vehicle safety concerns. It could be safe to guess that the average European consumer feels about the same, so this apprehension could certainly be another hindrance to expanding the infrastructure needed to make a car eWallet fully functional.
While there are potential obstacles, none of them are insurmountable, and the benefits would certainly outweigh the risks regarding an increase in “smart” vehicle features. In the future, car ownership could become less common once autonomous vehicles become more customary. An autonomous car would be able to drive itself to a rider, and payments could be made to the car directly. Riders would only pay for exactly what they use as far as mileage or rental time, and all could be executed without any middleman. This could happen through an Ethereum-powered, ride-sharing Dapp that could communicate the self-driving car requestor’s identity, insurance status, and fund availability to the vehicle for verification.
In a vision shared by Tesla, a self-driving car owner could come home after a long day and decide to go to bed early and ride-share their vehicle while they slept. In the future, the car would drive itself to an EV station to charge up, where it would pay the charging station, then drive itself to whoever requested it through a Dapp. The requestor could use the car to reach their destination and pay the car directly. It could charge itself as needed in between rides, paying for the energy it uses with its eWallet. The car could then return home right before the car owner needs to go to work. Maybe in the distant future, a robot would sanitize the interior of the car before returning it to the owner, because no matter how smart technology gets, ride-sharing will always have that added human element.
With blockchain-based technology, a car could even transact in micropayments, utilizing induction chargers built right into the roads. Imagine if an intersection with a long red light wait time had an induction-based EV charger laid into the street: an EV sitting at that light could draw energy directly from the road, using its eWallet to only pay for the tiny amount of juice it received. Using micropayments, a car could pay a fair price for even one minute of charging.
All of this may seem like speculation, but it appears to be where things are heading. There is a lot of infrastructure that’s still needed to make this a reality and tangent industries need to be informed on the benefits of integrating technologies like the eWallet. Awareness and collaboration are essential for the development of smart, sensor-laden parking spaces and change will be fueled by the cooperation of different enterprises. A partnership of the automotive industry (particularly with self-driving cars), the energy industry (regarding renewable energy and microgrids), and blockchain tech innovators will execute the reality of IoT machine-to-machine payments, micropayments, decentralized identity confirmation, and the simple transfer of currency. In a decentralized future, a time-tested blockchain system will need to be relied on, and Ethereum could facilitate that very future.