BLOCKCHAIN Can blockchain tech create new mobility business models?
The mobility sector has been interested in the solutions posted by blockchain and distributed ledger technology for a number of years with heavy investment and research across areas such as peer to peer payments for autonomous vehicles, vehicle sovereignty, and car-sharing. Startup peaq shares its progress in creating a vendor-agnostic e-charging platform.
Blockchain and related technologies such as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) have been promising big things for nearly a decade, asserting a plethora of new ways of structuring sectors such as finance and cybersecurity. Many companies - both startups and big established brand names - have been working on projects, alliances, and research and development exploring blockchain applications to figure out different ways in which they can leverage the technology to suit their needs.
IOTA announced last month that it has teamed up with Jaguar LandRover, NTT Data, and others to create IOTA Access, software that would grant consumers remote access and control of items such as cars and appliances. For example, consumers could access the trunk remotely to allow a neighbor to place a delivered package. Last year Jaguar also worked with IOTA to deploy smart wallet technology in their cars. Owners earn credits by enabling their cars to automatically report useful road condition data such as traffic congestion or potholes to navigation providers or local authorities. Smart wallets also remove the need for drivers to hunt for loose change or sign up to multiple accounts to pay for various everyday services.
Daimler Mobility created the Mobility Blockchain Platform aiming to optimize booking and invoicing processes for mobility solutions sustainably. They're also working on smartVIN in response to the issue of odometer tampering in second-hand cars, aiming to create a secure virtual vault where a vehicle's information and entire history could be stored without being changed.
In 2018, the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative (MOBI) launched a new consortium for blockchain innovation in the mobility industry. The consortium's founders include Renault, Ford, GM, BMW, startups, NGOs, transit agencies, insurers, toll road providers, smart city leaders, and technology companies working to accelerate adoption and promote standards in blockchain, distributed ledgers, and related technologies.
Most blockchain mobility projects are still in the R&D phase
Many projects are in the research, trial, or proof of concept phase, requiring extensive R&D before anything is released commercially or to the mainstream. Overall, across the mobility space, a myriad of blockchain solutions are being developed which focus on areas such as:
- Mileage fraud
- M2M communication and payments (such as an autonomous car paying toll booths)
- Car and ride-sharing
- Connected mobility such as international travel ticketing
- Usage-based insurance
- Provenance, tracking, and authenticity of parts, components, and auditability and settlement at the supply chain level.
With the growth of electric vehicles and the use of renewable energies to power cars now and in the future, blockchain technology can benefit growth. Electric vehicles can earn money by participating in peer-to-peer energy trading or feeding power back to the grid.
Electric charging stations provide another use case for Distributed Ledger Technology
Berlin startup peaq is developing another solution, combining electric vehicle charging points as one resource. Providers allow customers of other providers to charge their vehicles using roaming contracts. Last week they announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with one of Germany's leading car companies. The contract aims to go into mass-production on a full-scale e-mobility platform for the automotive industry. I spoke to peaq's co-founder Max Thake to find out more.
The company completed a strategic funding round last month with investors including Werner Geissler, former Vice-Chairman of Procter & Gamble, Michael Ganser, former CEO for Germany of CISCO, Xavier Sarras, Partner at 4P Capital, Friedrich Neuman, Senior Advisor at Deloitte, and Steffen Seifarth, former CEO of Mäurer & Wirtz.
Max explained that peaq had been largely in stealth mode up until now, unusual for a sector which, as Max himself admits, "loves to talk and shout really loud about how everything's going to change, and how quickly that's going to happen. But we realized pretty quickly that we're dealing with an infrastructure tech that takes time. So our last three years have been spent on R&D."
peaq is creating a neutral e-mobility platform for the mobility industry as a whole. The platform uses Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), which can broadly be defined as a series of infrastructure and protocols that allows simultaneous access, validation, and record updating in an immutable manner across a network spread across multiple entities or locations.
According to Max, "We're working with an [unnamed] automotive giant to solve the existing pain points. If you look at the current state of mobility and charging infrastructure, now it's totally fragmented; you have automotives, setting up their own infrastructure, you have infrastructure companies focused on select groups or just one or two automotives. But what is missing is the ability for me or you to buy an electric car and have every charging infrastructure available to us. This is what we're making possible by basically pooling everyone onto a platform where governance is not set by one player or a group of players. It's by all stakeholders. That's the revolution. That's the big shift. And this is the first proper example of this happening industry-wide."
Key partners collaborating on the platform include automotive companies, charge pointer operators, and infrastructure and energy companies.
The future of mobility is electric
It's estimated that Europe needs a fifteen-fold increase in electric vehicle public charging points by 2030 to support the EU's goal of becoming "climate neutral" by mid-century, according to research published in January. Gas stations in Germany have been tasked with providing charging stations for electric vehicles as part of the country's €130 billion coronavirus stimulus package. Germany had 27,730 electric car charging stations as of March 2020.
peaq will be publicly naming their partners and begin rolling out the technology in 2021, starting with software embedded in new vehicles with the aim to provide retrofitting via a software update to all electric vehicles produced in the past few years.