How Blockchain is Making Our Cities Smarter

Blockchain is inextricably linked to Bitcoin. In fact, it was invented as a method of recording transactions made with the crypto-currency. But as awareness of the technology grows and it develops new capabilities, its applications are spreading far beyond virtual money.

The ledger system can also be incredibly useful for businesses, helping to create transparency in records. For start-ups and freelance contributors, it has become an invaluable method of verifying transactions in a way that can’t be refuted.

And, with apps like DOVU using blockchain to encourage and reward mobility-data sharing, it’s predicted to be a major player in so-called “smart cities”, which adapt and grow to suit the needs of individuals.

What is Blockchain?

Forbes describes blockchain as “an append-only transaction ledger”, where information is stored in blocks that can be built upon but neither amended nor deleted. The blocks essentially create a chain of information that can also serve as a useful record for solving future problems. It’s about joined-up thinking and collaboration.

Not just anyone can contribute to a blockchain, however—you have to prove you can add value and expertise to the chain by first solving a mathematical problem, competing against others.

It’s seen as a more democratic way of recording information and data, because no single individual or organisation is controlling or supplying the information. The results can also be made public, adding an extra layer of verification; if the event or transaction simply didn’t happen, it’s highly likely to be exposed

This data collaboration and transparency can have the same benefits for cities, tapping into information and resources to build a roadmap for a smarter way of living, working and moving.

In fact, the technology is believed to be a positive tool wherever greater transparency and collaborative data is considered indispensible. This could even apply to personal identification; irrefutable blocks of information that prove exactly who you are in every transaction and Internet profile.

Joined-Up Thinking

The most obvious application is transport. Just as apps like Waze tap into a hive mind to advise people on the immediate best route to get from A to B, a more selective gathering of information with blockchain—and the transparency that means anyone can see what was added, and when—could create a leaner and more personalised way of moving around.

The DOVU system works by encouraging individuals to share mobility data, such as traffic and alternative routes, and rewards this—and every time you make more eco-friendly travel choices—with tokens. These can be used for relevant purchases such as cycle hire.

DOVU’s ambitious aim is to unlock transport data on a global and local scale, creating a marketplace that anyone can access.

Its creator, Irfon Watkins told Tech Crunch: “The transport sector knows where it wants to go with real-time data and smart technology but doesn’t know how to get there. DOVU is the missing piece of the puzzle—an on-ramp for fast, secure and global data sharing for everybody.”

DigitalTown aims to hand power back to the people, enabling them to effectively create their own local versions of Google, Airbnb and Amazon by sharing information and services via blockchain.

Creating a Connection

Blockchain could also change the way we rent cars and use vehicle-sharing schemes. On an individual level, blockchain technology can be used to validate transactions such as petrol or, increasingly, electric vehicle charging. On a broader level, recording the flow of electrons in charging stations would help identify where they are most needed, and also highlight any technical issues.

This can be taken to a higher experiential level, too. Writing on tech site Hacker Noon, CMO of MIMIR Blockchain Solutions John Licata suggests blockchain could also elevate transport from purely functional to experiential, and help to create human connections. The technology has the capability to more easily link drivers up with like-minded people and relevant activities in their surroundings.

“Blockchain will move way beyond digital audit trails to allow riders to not only safely hitch a ride to or from, it will be an application used to help consumers be more integrated into their communities by presenting new ways to connect people with shared interests such as a going to a sporting event or music concert,” he says. “The idea of turning a car into nodes that can create a community of people is something that has already begun to be tested in the book world.”

When it comes to vehicle-sharing schemes like Zipcar, this could mean a more personalised experience—something that could help make the idea of owning a vehicle less important. If each car you hop in “knows” you, why do you need the paperwork?

And, for most cities, having fewer cars on the road—and, as a consequence, reducing congestion and pollution—is a major priority, and a very smart move.

Emily Taylor
Emily looks after Consumer Marketing for Zipcar, leading on our promotional campaigns and marketing communications. When she isn’t developing her passion for creating content, she spends weekends judging the UK’s ability to make decent coffee (we forgot to mention she’s Australian) and obsessing over dogs she doesn’t own.

Date published: 5 September 2018

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