<p>Dr. Gill Pratt, shown here during a presentation at CES 2016, is CEO of Toyota Research Institute. TRI has research facilities&nbsp;in California, Michigan and Massachusetts. <em>Photo courtesy of Toyota.</em></p>

VIDEO: Understanding Blockchain Technology

The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) is exploring blockchain and distributed ledger technology (BC/DL) in hopes of accelerating development of autonomous vehicle systems, the institute said.

TRI is collaborating with the MIT Media Lab and other industry partners to foster a digital environment where users may securely share driving and autonomous vehicle testing data, manage ride-share and car-share transactions, and store vehicle usage information that could be used in the setting of insurance rates, TRI said. 

Blockchain technology sends information over a network of independent computers, known as a distributed ledger. The goal is to ensure that the transaction is secure and ownership rights over the data or property are protected.

TRI said it believes blockchain may create transparency and trust among users, reduce risk of fraud, and reduce or eliminate transaction costs such as fees or surcharges applied by third-party institutions.     

“Hundreds of billions of miles of human driving data may be needed to develop safe and reliable autonomous vehicles,” explained Chris Ballinger, director of mobility services and chief financial officer at TRI. “Blockchains and distributed ledgers may enable pooling data from vehicle owners, fleet managers, and manufacturers to shorten the time for reaching this goal, thereby bringing forward the safety, efficiency and convenience benefits of autonomous driving technology.”  

Through an open-source approach to software tools, TRI is creating a user consortium and hopes to stimulate more rapid adoption of blockchain by other companies developing autonomous vehicles and providing mobility services. TRI added that it’s inviting other parties to collaborate on further development of BC/DL technology applications in vehicle data and services.   

TRI added that it is already working with several industry partners, in addition to MIT Media Lab, to develop applications and proofs of concept for three areas of the new mobility ecosystem: driving/testing data sharing, car/ride share transactions and usage-based insurance.   

Driving/Testing Data Sharing — Blockchain technology may allow companies and individuals to securely share and monetize their driving information and access the data contributed by others in a secure marketplace. This approach builds on a similar blockchain initiative to create digital property rights in the music industry, the Open Music Initiative. Modern vehicles are increasingly aware of their environment through onboard sensors and are increasingly connected to the cloud, roadway infrastructure and other vehicles, all of which are generating massive amounts of valuable data. BC/DL may create an opportunity to share driving and autonomous testing data in an environment that preserves ownership of the data by the creator.  

Car/Ride Share Transactions — Tools based on BC/DL have the potential to empower vehicle owners to monetize their asset by selling rides, cargo space or even the use of the vehicle itself. The blockchain can store data about the vehicle’s usage and information about vehicle owners, drivers and passengers. This profile information can help validate a “smart contract” between two parties plus manage payment of services between them without the need for a financial intermediary, thereby saving transaction surcharges. The system may also provide connectivity to vehicle functions for remote locking/unlocking doors and engine startup/shut off.  

Usage-Based Insurance — The blockchain can also be used for vehicle owners to save money on their insurance rates. By allowing the vehicle’s sensors to collect driving data and store it in a blockchain, vehicle owners might further lower their insurance costs by giving insurers increased transparency to reduce fraud, plus granting them access to driving data to measure safe driving habits.

“I'm excited Toyota is spearheading this initiative that uses blockchain technology to create an open platform where users can control their driving data,” said Neha Narula, director of the Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. “Our hope is that other industry stakeholders will join this effort to bring safe and reliable autonomous vehicles one step closer to reality.”   

To learn more about blockchain technology and its potential, click on the photo or link below the headline.