How Blockchain and Other Disruptive Technologies Will Revolutionize Mobility


Ahead of the Autonomous Vehicles Summit in Detroit (August 21-23), we sat down with one of our speakers, Nick Pudar. Nick is a board director at the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative, or MOBI, which supports innovation in the mobility space. It's a theme Nick will pick up at AV Detroit, where he's leading a workshop titled "Leveraging Disruptive Tech for the Autonomous Ecosystem and Rolling Out Mobility-as-a-Service." 

To start, please tell us a bit about yourself, MOBI’s mission and how you guys got started?

In addition to being a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, I'm also on the board of directors of MOBI, which stands for the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative. The objective of MOBI is to work with the auto industry, the supply base, some NGOs, municipalities and to really look at how we could potentially adopt the unique benefits that come with blockchain technology to make mobility better, more efficient, more effective and more secure. 

MOBI was founded a year ago in May of 2018 when a few interested parties from the auto industry got together to explore what it would take to create a standard for blockchain technology development where we all benefit. Where there are some non competitive aspects of making sure the technology works to everybody's advantage. And that includes the industry, consumers and communities. So we're well on our way. We've got several work streams underway, particularly around vehicle identity and also usage based data collection for insurance and other applications.

How can blockchain and related technologies make mobility safer, greener, cheaper and more accessible?

Blockchain technology is very unique in the sense that it can do some things that have never been able to be done before. In particular, the side benefit of this technology is that it makes transactions of digital assets much more secure and it also makes the management of these transactions that much more effective and cost efficient.

And so the very simplistic view of what blockchain technology is, is it is a way in which data can be securely retained so that everybody can be certain and assured that the data has not been altered. Typically, in traditional disciplines, the cost and complexity of having these very trusted databases is very high. There's a lot of cybersecurity concerns and the management of these datasets is very complicated. As a result, everybody, has to create these systems on their own because they don't necessarily trust that their interests are going to be properly managed by others.

Blockchain technology allows all of the benefits of a very robust data management system but in a much, much more efficient way and a much more secure way. And we believe that this technology will enable new start ups to emerge, new solutions to be created and new business processes to flourish.

What role does blockchain play in mobility-as-a-service specifically?

As I mentioned, the major benefits of blockchain are lower transaction costs and significantly better security. But there are specific applications of those benefits that will play itself out more aggressively in the mobility as a service arena. One of those is being the ability to manage identity. This is not just identity of people, but identity of vehicles, identity of infrastructure, identity of energy sources and identity of payment platforms. Identity management is one of these areas that benefits from lower costs and better security.

A second mechanism is the ability to leverage that identity and have associated authorizations and a physical asset access rights. In the world of autonomous vehicles, for example, how can we be certain that an autonomous vehicle and the intended human rider are an appropriate match? How does the vehicle know that this is the right person? How does the person know that this is the right vehicle? What are the rights that this individual has with respect to a particular vehicle? The mechanisms that are necessary for identity management and asset access and authorization is going to be a lot smoother with blockchain technology as the basis for it.

A third area that I believe is going to play a role, and it's emerging at this stage, is the notion of asset ownership. Today the assets that are used in mobility services are either owned by municipalities or by companies or individuals in peer to peer solutions. The physical ownership of those assets can get complicated and tricky when it comes to registrations and the financing aspects of it. Blockchain technology is going to allow us to create new modalities of ownership that will help fuel the funding of different forms of mobility. It's an area where the surfaces are just being scratched, but it's one where I believe innovation is going to play itself out.

I know you touched a little bit already on autonomous vehicles, but are there any other ways, aside from identity management and some of the things that you mentioned before, that will, that blockchain can enable and support when it comes to the rise of autonomous vehicles?

Well, autonomous vehicles are going to be deployed largely as ride sharing services initially. So the notion of robo-taxi ride share services. Blockchain technology is this new capability of more efficient solutions and more secure solutions to manage payment structures, to manage the city congestion requirements that various communities are going to impose. It's going to help manage the identities and the authorizations and the rights that the human rider will have.

It will also help fleets better manage the disposition of their vehicles because the vehicles themselves are going to be reporting a streaming set of data from their activities. It's not just every single company is going to have their own unique version of this data, but the industry is going to emerge in such a way that all of the participants are going to be streaming their data, some aspects of their data, and then the city will help manage congestion, set dynamic pricing, manage energy flows. The overall systemic efficiencies are going to be improved continuously through this process.

Wonderful. And then last question. You're hosting a workshop on the AV Detroit on leveraging disruptive tech for autonomous ecosystems and rolling out mobility as a service. What are three takeaways or emotions you hope people leave with?

Well, the key phrase here is an ecosystem. Mobility has many facets to it. And so as we look at providing solutions, we can't just create solutions that are unique and stand alone. They need to be part of a broader system. How to understand those system interactions both as a consumer, as an enterprise and as a community is going to be important. Basically, thinking about those business models is going to be very, very important.

The second thing is blockchain technology is quite incredible in it's capabilities, but it's not a silver bullet for everything. Out of every 10 applications where I see that it can be applied, nine out of those 10 are okay, but they're not essential. It's typically 10% to 20% of applications where there is no other solution available to be able to do something effectively where the excitement comes in. And the great news is that there are a lot of startups in this space that are exploring these new capabilities. 

And so a second key takeaway is blockchain enables new business processes that otherwise couldn't exist. And we need to focus our energy and attention on that.

The third thing is, this is an important technology that everybody really owes it to themselves to understand. I hope to help people get a better appreciation for number one, why does this technology even exist? Number two, at a very high level, how does it really work? And then what are the unique aspects of it that we should focus our energy and attention on?

Note: For more on innovation in mobility, check out our special report: Why Mobility-as-a-Service is the Future of Transportation.