Blockchain and the Transport Sector: threats and opportunities
Although blockchain technologies are still in their infancy, they generate a lot of enthusiasm. Promises of traceability, transparency and autonomy, these technologies augur a bright future for companies that will find use cases. Today, this is already the case in the transport sector, which sees blockchain technologies as an opportunity to reassure consumers about the reliability of the supply chain while ensuring a fluidification of relations between the various partners. Hugo Briand, Architect and Lead Blockchain at ekino, analyses for us the opportunities and restrictions of these technologies in the transport sector.
Could blockchain be used to optimise or even reduce the cost of freight?
Blockchain technologies make it possible, above all, to streamline value transfers and streamline certification operations, in particular by making it possible to dispense with trusted third parties on certain processes. In the context of freight transport operations, there is usually an associated reverse value flow (goods transported against a financial counterpart). The blockchain and the cryptocurrencies can fluidify these transfers of values, in particular those which are international. One example is the recent example of this pesticide exchange between Argentina and Paraguay which has been settled in Bitcoin, resulting in a faster and cheaper transfer of value than the existing SWIFT system (an international money transfers system between banks).
Blockchain technologies can also solve problems of certifying evidence in the context of freight transport, thereby accelerating the dematerialization of processes and reducing paper footprints. This makes it possible to have better data on logistics systems while maintaining the same level of confidence as before. This data can be used to accelerate the feedback of information in the event of an incident in the supply chain.
Could blockchain reassure consumers about the traceability and therefore the true origin of products?
Blockchain technologies provide proof and guarantee the integrity of this evidence. However, they do not respond to the problem of the link between the physical and digital world. This is not a technology directly improving the reliability of products, but it acts as a catalyst for dematerialization. It speeds up the recovery of information in the event of an incident, and thus reassures consumers of the reliability of the supply chain and related products.
What opportunities does blockchain currently give and for which industries?
The opportunities are many and have not yet all been identified. Every industry can benefit from digitization of value transfers. Most of them can see their fluid production processes through the reduction of trusted third parties. That's why we propose to study and identify technology opportunities through design service workshops for companies that want to address this strategic topic. We can, however, identify a few sectors that can benefit right now, such as transportation and logistics. The energy sector is seeing its first concrete cases emerge on aspects of certification of green energy and in the implementation of local loops. The media sector could also benefit from blockchain, for example, in the monitoring of copyrights. But these are just a few examples.
What are the main obstacles?
The technology is still maturing, so a pragmatic approach is needed. Today we still encounter problems of scalability. However, these can be resolved thanks to the emergence of new technologies such as the Lightning Network, yet they are still at the experimental stage.
It is also necessary to address the issue of security, which is crucial in any blockchain project. Indeed, those addressing the transfer and the storage of value, are subject to new types of computer attacks. It would be, for example, unfortunate to send the crypto-currencies of the company to a wrong address. This is why the problem of securing both IT and business processes is critical in these projects. The good news is that we know how to address these issues.
Will the blockchain allow the acceleration of the creation of new means of transport?
In my opinion, we will soon see the emergence of new commercial transport models through cryptocurrencies. For example, we can use Lightning Network's micro-payment capabilities to pay for trips over distance travelled. In Argentina, it is already possible to pay for a journey in Bitcoin. Going further, one can imagine having vehicles that will pay their own parking, insurance and tolls. It is also a great opportunity for shared means of transport and models based on the collaborative economy: we can consider a carpooling system where all passengers agree to share the cost of the trip automatically paid by the car.
Will the blockchain make it possible to secure so-called ‘future’ transports such as automated planes?
It is very difficult to play the futurologist, especially since we do not yet know all the implications of these new means of transport. However, that does not seem to me to be directly correlated. Blockchain technologies are not security solutions, strictly speaking – it is cryptography that provides the security in this case. Blockchain technologies reduce the need for certification by an organisation, so we can imagine that if these technologies arrive in the supply chain of aircraft production, they will indirectly improve the security of these means of transport. But today we cannot see a direct impact.