The blockchain concept was originally associated with the financial world, where it is primarily applied as a brilliant solution for digital currency. However, by observing the current evolution of the modern industry, one can see that there are numerous other use-cases emerging in non-financial sectors that have the potential to revolutionize their industries and the world at large as we know it now.
The following sections focus on how some of the disruptive technologies of the 21st century will benefit from blockchain integration.
Inspired by insects, birds and other animals that do swarming, swarm robotics refers to large amounts of mostly identical robots that collectively work on specific tasks.
The main advantages are high adaptability to different environments and tasks, robustness to failure and scalability. Some of the examples include targeted material transportation, where swarms of robots carry heavy objects, medical applications, where nanobots are used for distributed sensing tasks inside the human body, agricultural tasks, military applications and many more.
One of the major challenges of swarm robotics is the security of the devices, as just one malicious member could be a threat to the mission`s goals. The main aspects of security in swarm robotics are data confidentiality, data integrity, entity authentication and data origin authentication.
A blockchain framework for the communication between swarm members could be the solution for securing the network and overcoming vulnerabilities, attacks and data breaches.
Frameworks have been proposed, where a private key and public key are assigned to each swarm member. The public key then serves as main accessible information for each member in the swarm network, whereas the private key would be the secret information, used to validate individually the agent`s identity and intended operations. Single robots then can only access publicly shared information that has exclusively been assigned to them. On the contrary, by using digital signature cryptography, single robots can use their private key for signing messages, and therefore proving their authorship.
Apart from the security aspects of how blockchain can enhance swarm robotics, distributed decision making is another point that could potentially be transformed.
Swarm robotic systems have the capability to sense information from multiple viewpoints, and thereby increase the quality and validity of the information obtained. Examples of such applications are dynamic task allocation, collective map building and obstacle avoidance. However, to reach consensus about the object of interest, a global agreement must be achieved.
Traditional distributed decision-making algorithms for large quantities of agents contain some trade-offs such as speed versus accuracy, that could potentially be solved by a more flexible and autonomous blockchain framework. For instance, blockchain-based distributed voting systems could be implemented for a robot swarm to reach agreements.
Internet of Things
Internet of Things (IOT) is expected to transform many industries and generate enormous economic benefits in the future. Enhanced connectivity, increased productivity and efficiency as well as cost-effectiveness are just a few of the advantages it can offer. However, besides its massive potential, security, privacy and trust level are real concerns.
As interconnectability is the main selling point of IOT solutions, it also opens more options for hackers to gain access to private data or full control over IOT devices. The consequences could be stolen confidential data and identities, hijacking of app-connected cars, etc.
Just recently, a hacker manged to gain full access to the vehicle-monitoring apps iTrack and ProTrack. He was then able to monitor the location of the car, access the drivers’ private information and could have even killed the engine remotely.
Devices like smart fridges, DVRs and other IOT-devices also often become targets for hackers, leveraging on the collective computing power of the devices to execute distributed denial of service (DDoS-) attacks on websites or dynamic domain name service providers, thereby shutting down batches of websites at once.
Even if blockchain can solve some of these issues, it would more likely act as an addition to the overall network security, that will still depend strongly on firewalls, encryption and other authentication mechanisms.
Overall, the applications of IOT and Blockchain are immense and especially promising in the context of network security, privacy and autonomous inter-device payments. Blockchain will also enable an overall more resilient ecosystem for devices by preventing single points of failure by its decentralized nature.
Besides the security advantages of a decentralized ledger, the capability of keeping all transactions of an IOT network on a trusted ledger could come in handy for compliances and regulatory requirements of Industrial IOT (IIOT).
The Digital Twin concept, which was listed besides Blockchain, AI and IOT as one of the “Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends” by Gartner in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019 could also benefit highly from Blockchain technology.
The primary idea behind the digital twin is the real-time representation of a physical system in virtual space. This can be achieved by a continual data collection of the physical device using sensors and data exchange between the physical and virtual part of the digital twin. This allows for simulations, in-depth process analysis, predictions, optimizations and explorations of the system without the necessity of interacting with the physical system itself.
Another critical advantage of the digital twin concept is the ability to share and exchange data between virtual twins to further optimize processes. This has already been realised in some cases as a global network of hundreds of machines that each have their digital twin and in case of an error, the information will be shared with all the other machines.
Consequently, the other machines can then adjust certain settings to prevent the error from occurring again. In environments like these, where large amounts of often confidential data are being exchanged, an underlying blockchain layer would guarantee the security of the network as well as the authenticity of the data. Messages between digital twins could be implemented similar to already proven financial blockchain transactions.
In addition, the intrinsic transparency and trustless nature of blockchain coupled with the sensor data of the devices, would enable an authentic, unmanipulable and trackable protocol of the device, which could be interesting for logistics, counterfeit protection and insurance.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers intelligence and decision-making capabilities for machines similar to humans to learn and adapt based on data collected.
Blockchain, on the other hand, can be used to store and transmit data in a decentralized, trustless, anonymous and secure manner. Combining these two technologies can lead to some ground-breaking innovations.
Artificial Intelligence is being used in a variety of applications and products nowadays. Major platforms like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and many more are using AI algorithms to analyze collected data from their users to precisely compose personalized recommendations.
Other applications include smart cars, prediction, fraud detection, face recognition, manufacturing and the list goes on. What most of them have in common is the necessity to collect, store and analyse enormous amounts of data to achieve the best results. This, however, is extremely expensive and the traditional methods of storing data are rarely secure enough, which leads to frequent data breaches.
Blockchain technology offers encryption of the private information and could be used to access the data with the correct private key only. This reduces the amount of data that needs to be secured to a few kilobytes and therefore immensely reduces the costs of data collection, -storage and -analysis.
The immutability of Blockchain in AI applications also plays an important role, as it prevents intentional or unintentional manipulation of the data. Researchers at the interface of AI and Blockchain are currently working on solutions to allow AI to work with encrypted and therefore unexposed data, which will further increase its use-cases and future potential.
Looking into the distant future, it is obvious that the applications of blockchain will far exceed the financial world and that we will see a growing number of symbioses of blockchain with other technologies.
By leveraging the advantages of different fields and innovations, new business models and solutions will evolve, providing competitive advantages and flexibility for many industries.
With Bitcoin, the concept of blockchain was created approximately 10 years ago and it could be speculated that not even its inventor Satoshi Nakamoto anticipated the myriad of applications that could benefit from it.
Let us now look 10 years into the future and think about how all these disruptive technologies will lead to unforeseeably revolutionizing inventions and new ways of living. What an exciting time to be alive!