Ford, Renault, GM, BMW, IBM co-found MOBI blockchain consortium

Ford, Renault, GM, BMW, IBM co-found MOBI blockchain consortium

UPDATED The MOBI Consortium looks set to transform the transport market with blockchain. This exciting initiative points the way to a radically different economic model, suggests Chris Middleton, thanks to the presence of the IOTA Foundation and Fetch, among giants such as IBM, BMW, Ford, Renault, and General Motors.

A new transport industry organisation has been formed by 37 companies to explore the use of blockchain in systems that could “make transportation safer, more affordable, and more widely accessible”.

The Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative (MOBI) announced its foundation today, saying that it is working with a range of technology providers, and with automotive manufacturers that account for “over 70 percent of global vehicle production”, in terms of market share.

The organisation appears to be an evolution of the Blockchain Mobility Consortium, which emerged in 2017. Its stated aim is to create a minimum viable network for the technology that includes automakers, public transportation and toll road providers, technology firms, blockchain innovators, such as Fetch and the IOTA Foundation, academic institutions, startups, and regulatory bodies across the globe.

Partners announced today include:

Accenture; Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Services USA; Beyond Protocol Inc; BigchainDB; Blockchain at Berkeley; BMW; Bosch; Chronicled; ConsenSys Systems; Context Labs, Crypto Valley Association; Dashride; Deon Digital AG; Digital Twin Labs; DOVU;; FOAM; Ford; General Motors; Hyperledger; IBM, the IOTA Foundation; Luxoft; MotionWerk; NuCypher; Oaken Innovations; Ocean Protocol; Outlier Ventures; Renault; Ride Austin; Shareing; Shift, Spherical Analytics; the Trusted IoT Alliance; VeChain; Xain; and ZF Friedrichshafen AG.

Initially, MOBI – which shares its name with an unconnected bitcoin wallet system* – will be working with its partners on projects related to:

  • Vehicle identity, history and data tracking
  • Supply chain tracking, transparency, and efficiency
  • Autonomous machine and vehicle payments
  • Secure mobile commerce
  • Data markets for autonomous and human driving
  • Car sharing and ride hailing
  • Usage-based mobility pricing, and payments for vehicles, insurance, energy, congestion, pollution, and infrastructure.

Open source organisation

Through an open-source approach to blockchain software tools and standards, the MOBI consortium says it hopes to stimulate more rapid and scalable adoption of the technology – by companies that are developing autonomous vehicle or mobility services, for example.

MOBI plans to connect global mobility providers with blockchain innovators, as well as government/non-government agencies and other institutions, to collaborate on the development of blockchain-enabled vehicle data and mobility services. 

The organisation said that its partners “seek to foster an ecosystem where businesses and consumers have security and sovereignty over their driving data, manage ride-share and car-share transactions, and store vehicle identity and usage information.”

MOBI’s founding partners have been talking up its potential.

A set of blockchain standards for the mobility industry will allow auto, infrastructure, and service providers to efficiently communicate and transact with each other,” said Sachin Lulla, VP and automotive industry leader at IBM.

“Bringing the industry together and building interoperable blockchain networks is key to helping the automotive industry unleash the potential of blockchain,” he added.

“From the handling of vehicle ID numbers and collision histories to the complex supply chains that lead to assembly lines and dealerships, blockchain offers new levels of data security and transparency,” said Teodoro Lio, Accenture MD and industrial and automotive innovation lead.

“Industry leaders are just beginning to understand the unique characteristics of this technology and its diverse forms. This forum will help put them on the leading edge of blockchain’s possibilities to improve industry efficiencies, safety controls and the overall transportation experience.”

Is it a block and chain?

Blockchain technology operates by distributing information to a network of independent computers, theoretically ensuring that transactions are secure, and that data privacy, ownership rights, and integrity are protected. By creating a hash of each previous block of data in the chain, the distributed system can reveal any unauthorised changes or anomalies.

However, some commentators have claimed that blockchain is too slow and complex for time-critical functions (which founder members Fetch and the IoTA Foundation aim to address – see below), and even some blockchain advocates have suggested that the technology is inappropriate for most enterprise applications. Nonetheless, its use in managing supply chains, insurance, legal contracts, and a range of other applications, including software robotics, has already been established.

Working in a consortium allows MOBI and its partners to “create transparency and trust among users, reduce the risk of fraud, and reduce friction and transaction costs in mobility, such as fees or surcharges applied by third-parties”, said the organisation in its announcement today. 

Leading the charge

Chris Ballinger, former CFO and director of Mobility Services at Toyota Research Institute, is joining MOBI as chairman and CEO, with the aim of creating a “more open platform where users, owners, mobility service companies, and infrastructure providers can better control and monetise their assets, including their data”.

“Blockchain and related trust-enhancing technologies are poised to redefine the automotive industry and how consumers purchase, insure and use vehicles,” said Ballinger. “By bringing together automakers, suppliers, startups, and government agencies, we can accelerate adoption for the benefit of businesses, consumers, and communities.”   

At present, Toyota itself does not seem to be onboard.

Joining Ballinger as co-founders and board members are: Ashley Lannquist from Blockchain at Berkeley; and David Luce, previously of FICO and Toyota. On the advisory board are: Dan Harple, CEO of Context Labs; Joseph Lubin, co-founder of Ethereum and founder of ConsenSys; Brian Behlendorf, executive Director of Hyperledger; Jamie Burke, CEO of Outlier Ventures; and Zaki Manian, executive director of the Trusted IoT Alliance.

More of MOBI’s automotive and technology partners have joined the chorus of approving voices. “We believe blockchain will transform the way people and businesses interact, creating new opportunities in mobility,” said Rich Strader, Ford’s VP of Mobility Product Solutions.

Sophie Schmidtlin, Renault’s global director, added: “Blockchain technology is by essence decentralised, and its full potential needs to be assessed by working in an open ecosystem. That is why it is natural for Groupe Renault to take part in the MOBI consortium.

“This consortium will be a great opportunity to share and learn about the possibilities that can be opened up by the distributed ledger technology, as applied to the automotive ecosystem. Ultimately, we aim to work together to define future standards and use-cases that will make an easier everyday life for our customers.”

Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder of Ethereum, added, “At ConsenSys, we are dedicated to building the Ethereum ecosystem and are committed to supporting new use cases across all industries.

“As one of our first ventures into the automotive industry, we’re excited to support MOBI’s exploration and development of blockchain solutions, which will enable all parties in the automotive supply chain to benefit from digitisation and the seamless exchange of data and immutability of their records.”

Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Hyperledger, said, “We’re pleased to be a part of MOBI and collaborating with industry leaders on the development of blockchain-enabled vehicle data and mobility services applications and systems.

“We look forward to working together with this community to create transparency and trust among users, as well as reduce risk of fraud and transaction costs in mobility with open distributed ledger technologies.” 

Autonomous ledgers

“We are incredibly excited to be part of this initiative, which already connects several of our portfolio with the world’s automotive companies. We see mobility as ground zero for the convergence of AI with DLT and IoT,” said Jamie Burke, CEO and founder of Outlier Ventures.

Outlier is a key investor in 2016 startup, Fetch. As reported recently on Internet of Business, Fetch is behind the world’s first AI-powered self-organising smart ledger technology for decentralised transactions.

Fetch’s system enables AIs to buy and sell digital assets autonomously, from or to another AI, with contracts, payments, and execution all handled automatically. The distributed ledger system also generates tokens that can be exchanged for utility value on the network, which provides an incentive for operating a node. In this sense, the system includes concepts ported over from cryptocurrency mining.

Unsurprisingly, Fetch is also onboard the MOBI launch. CEO Humayun Sheikh said, “Mobility today, whether public transport or private automotive, is a complex system that requires coordination beyond the scope of the closed, centralised IT we currently rely on.

“At Fetch we are combining distributed ledger technology and machine learning to provide an autonomous infrastructure that’s able to support a more efficient transport ecosystem by anticipating, and acting on, the needs of various actors.

“We wholeheartedly support MOBI’s mission to develop common distributed ledger standards that will be essential to moving the entire mobility industry forward.”

But perhaps the most interesting founding member is the IOTA Foundation, whose lighter – or less ‘blocky’ – distributed ledger system is optimised for machine-to-machine micropayments, via Tangle / Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) technology.

Dominik Schiener, co-founder and chair of the IOTA Foundation, said, “As the world is starting to recognise the huge potential of decentralised ledger technology, it is essential to establish the key functionalities for a scalable ecosystem based on the principles of open source, collaboration, and permanent innovation that drives broad-scaled technology adoption.”

*: Adding to the possible MOBI name confusion, Daimler launched its own cryptocurrency, MobiCoin, in March, which is designed to reward drivers for good behaviour on the road.

Internet of Business says

When Mark Carney laid into cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies earlier this year, he suggested that they are failing as money and as trusted systems, respectively. Part of his argument was that there is no critical mass of support, and the technologies are fragmented and largely self-serving – even facilitating criminal activities.

However, alliances such as MOBI demonstrate that those accusations may be short lived, as a range of organisations and solutions coalesce around shared objectives to forge industry-wide standards, decentralise data, take back ownership and control from data landlords, and consign monolithic systems to the landfill of history.

In theory, at least, given that many of the organisations onboard are themselves monolithic data landlords, while others have technologies to sell to them, or a portfolio of investment interests attached. Plus, the system is – at present, at least – clearly rooted in a network of shared US and European interests, rather than being a true a global movement.

Despite the tech cartel that, some might argue, risks emerging from such a forward-looking, standard-setting consortium, an interesting future opens up – one in which cryptocurrencies and other forms of decentralised payment have a much larger role to play in transactions, and in transaction systems.

Fast forward a decade or two, and its conceivable that smart cities, connected transport networks, and friction-free commerce may increasingly rely on micropayment transactions that are location- and intent-based, and which exist completely outside of the traditional banking system, with incentives for sharing the data ‘gold’ that virtual currencies may be backed by.

In that environment, trust will be vital, not technology complexity and slowness; and this is the key challenge, not only for consortia like MOBI, but also for blockchain itself, which some believe needs to evolve beyond its slow, blocky beginnings. In short, it needs to lose the block and chain, as some have observed.

The presence of Fetch and the IOTA Foundation in this industry-wide initiative suggests some promising directional thinking – which supports the notion of the emergence of a new micropayment-based economy.

Nonetheless, this is a promising and exciting venture, especially given the big names onboard; expect a range of announcements in the months ahead. But will other automotive giants get onboard, including Tesla, Uber, Waymo, Volkswagen, Toyota, et al? That may be the tipping point.