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Blockchain could bridge the gap to integrated transport, according to new report

  • Sheffield University Management School and Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) report studies the disruptive potential of Blockchain in the transport industry
  • Professor Lenny Koh, Director of the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre (AREC) at Sheffield University Management School, co-authored the report with Charles Carter, TSC.
  • TSC is calling for government and industry to explore the technology’s potential uses in transport to ensure the UK stays ahead of latest developments

Blockchain

Blockchain could provide the underpinnings for a future integrated transport system, without the need for large and costly centralised control mechanisms, according to a new paper from Sheffield University Management School and the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC).

The TSC is calling for government and industry to explore the technology’s potential uses in transport to ensure the UK stays ahead of latest developments.

Blockchain is a Distributed Ledger Technology, which is a special type of distributed database. Each computer ‘node’ or member in a network  stores an identical ‘ledger’ or database. This database takes the form of a chronological chain of unique groups  of information called ‘blocks’ which are securely linked together using cryptography.

The University of Sheffield and TSC report found that, whilst currently the technology is still some years from full maturity, synergies exist in areas like freight and logistics, autonomous vehicles and mobility as a service, where the technology could be applied in the future.

This is because these areas will involve multiple businesses with potentially competing interests, who require trust and transparency to share data and work together seamlessly – which plays to the strengths of Blockchain.

In one example, the report highlights that the decentralised nature of Blockchain could provide an alternative future for mobility as a service business model, where transport is supplied on demand to subscription customers.

Blockchain could help avoid the situation where centralised platforms come to control service provision and data leading to minimal competition. Instead it could facilitate a decentralised 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 report also suggests that Blockchain could also help integrate autonomous drone fleets into the existing transport network, without the need to establish large regulatory organisations to track and monitor use and licensing.

Professor Lenny Koh, Director of Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre (AREC), at Sheffield University Management School, added: “Our transport systems and their wider networks and supply chains are increasingly digitalised. 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 partnership between the Transport Systems Catapult and the University of Sheffield, we have explored the potential of Blockchain to address these challenges.

“Blockchain as a disruptive technology, to be used in conjunction with Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence in the Cloud, can add further value and have a transformational impact on transport including the acceleration of the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) economy.”

Discussing the report, TSC Chief Technology Officer Mark Westwood added: “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 analyse potential use cases to find out if Blockchain is a good fit, or if other technologies could provide a better solution.

“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. Other countries and businesses are exploring its potential right now. The technology’s disruptive potential is such that the UK transport industry needs to start paying attention, so we are not caught out later.”

The TSC is calling for the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to support future mobility through the launch of a dedicated R&D programme, collaborating with the transport services industry to build demonstrators of new mobility services. This will enable new service models and technologies such as Blockchain to be tested in-market, creating economic growth for UK based companies through reducing time to market.

Download the full report ‘Blockchain Disruption in Transport: Are you decentralised yet?’

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