New TSC report says blockchain could bridge the gap to integrated transport systems

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According to a new report from the UK’s Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) and the University of Sheffield, blockchain could provide the underpinnings for a future integrated transport system, without the need for large and costly centralized control mechanisms.

The new study explores the disruptive potential of blockchain in the transport industry, and the TSC is calling for government and industry to explore the technology’s potential uses across the transportation sector, to ensure the UK stays ahead of latest developments. Blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Each block typically contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data. By design, a blockchain is resistant to modification of the data, and forms an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.

The report found that, while the technology is still some years from full maturity, synergies exist in areas such as freight and logistics, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs), and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), where the technology could be applied in the future. This is because these areas will involve multiple businesses with potentially competing interests, which require trust and transparency to share data and work together – this plays to the strengths of blockchain. The report also suggests that blockchain could also help integrate autonomous drone fleets into the existing transport and logistics network, without the need to establish large regulatory organizations to track and monitor their use and licensing.

In one example of its potential, the report highlights that the decentralized nature of blockchain could provide an alternative future for MaaS business models, where transport is supplied on demand to subscription customers. Blockchain could help avoid the situation where centralized platforms come to control service provision and data leading to minimal competition. Instead it could facilitate a decentralized network of transport operators by providing built in trust, consensus and immutability in data and information sharing. Passengers could also have greater control over their personal data.

“The TSC’s unique neutral and trusted position allows us to provide a balanced voice against the positive and negative messages around blockchain through this report. We need to help decision makers understand the potential benefits and limitations of blockchain technology. It is also important to analyze potential use cases to find out if blockchain is a good fit, or if other technologies could provide a better solution,” explained the TSC’s chief technology officer, Mark Westwood. “Blockchain is still a new technology, but it has the potential to disrupt parts of the transport industry in a similar way as it has in finance. The UK transport industry needs to start paying attention, so we are not caught out later.”

Professor Lenny Koh, director of the Advanced Resource Efficiency Center (AREC), at the University of Sheffield, noted, “Our transport systems and their wider networks and supply chains are increasingly digitized. The traditional ways of managing transactions and resources in order to provide frictionless processes, mobility, products and services to users are no longer efficient. In this report, we explore the potential of blockchain to address these challenges. Blockchain, as a disruptive technology, can add further value and have a transformational impact on transport including the acceleration of the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) economy.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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