Canadian Underwriter

Toyota Research Institute exploring blockchain for possible use in autonomous driving technology

May 23, 2017   by Canadian Underwriter

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The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) announced on Monday that it is exploring blockchain and distributed ledger technology (BC/DL) for use in the development of a “new mobility ecosystem that could accelerate development of autonomous driving technology.”

Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute, stands in front of the Toyota Concept-i during a news conference at CES International, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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

TRI explained in a press release that blockchain technology sends information over a network of independent computers, known as a distributed ledger, intended to ensure that the transaction is secure and ownership rights over the data/property are protected. TRI believes that blockchain may create transparency and trust among users, reduce risk of fraud and reduction or elimination of 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,” suggested 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 also creating a user consortium and “hopes to stimulate more rapid adoption of blockchain by other companies developing autonomous vehicles and providing mobility services,” the release said. “TRI is inviting current and future partners to collaborate on further development of BC/DL technology applications in vehicle data and services.”

The institute is 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/rideshare 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. The release noted that 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/rideshare 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 need of 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 may be eligible to further lower their insurance costs by giving their insurance companies 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.”

TRI’s partners include Berlin-based BigchainDB, which is building the data exchange for sharing driving and autonomous vehicle testing data; Oaken Innovations, based in Dallas and Toronto, is developing an application for P2P car sharing, vehicle access and payments with a newly created mobility token; Commuterz, a startup from Israel, is working with TRI on a P2P carpooling solution; Gem, from Los Angeles, is working with Toyota Insurance Management Solutions – Toyota’s joint venture telematics car insurance company – and Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Services on the usage-based insurance platform. Each partner has expertise in their specific market or area of research, the release added.

TRI is also working with Toyota Financial Services in the United States for development of related financial tools.

TRI and its partners announced the new research thread today at Consensus 2017, a blockchain technology summit in New York.

The institute is a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota Motor North America under the direction of Dr. Gill Pratt. The company, established in 2015, aims to strengthen Toyota’s research structure and has four initial mandates: 1) enhance the safety of automobiles, 2) increase access to cars to those who otherwise cannot drive, 3) translate Toyota’s expertise in creating products for outdoor mobility into products for indoor mobility and 4) accelerate scientific discovery by applying techniques from artificial intelligence and machine learning. TRI is based in the U.S., with offices in Los Altos, Calif., Cambridge, Mass., and Ann Arbor, Mich.

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