The growing list of blockchain applications worldwide have been on a constant rise, since the inception of the concept and it’s working back in 2009. It’s already taken it’s due share in businesses, finances, real estate, smart phones, ATMs, Internet of Things (IoT), healthcare, music and even the governmental elections in some parts of the world. Individuals and companies are as fascinated by it as they are involved and the fanbase keeps growing, with every new set of application introduced.
Now, taking another leap side by side with technology, application of blockchain is being started to be implemented in drone technologies, of all things. Though in an early stage of market for both blockchain and drones, there is a growing list of individuals involved in various stages of development of blockchain drones.
What is Blockchain?
At a high level in simple terms: blockchain is a method for recording transactional information. Instead of keeping a track of all transactions in a central location, blockchain utilizes a distributed ledger. For a given activity, a copy of the full ledger with all the transactions are kept in each node in a distributed network. Blockchain provides many benefits over centralized forms of record keeping while operating without a single point of failure and supports complete transparency of data.
The distributed nature of the technology introduces a lot of challenges as well. Blockchain relies on a large network of nodes and eliminates a centralized system which requires the participation of everyone in that domain. A system with multiple parties and an independent central agency like the commercial drone industry needs extensive coordination and cooperation. Considering the many layers in blockchain, there are also several different protocols on the market each built using different algorithms and/or integration methods.
One of the biggest challenges in the way of mass blockchain adoption is scalability. For example, the speed of transactions using blockchain does not currently match existing high transactional systems. Transaction speed is dependent on the size of the blocks in the chain, which can potentially impact scalability. These scalability problems will become more evident at high volume and not so obvious at low volumes.
How does Blockchain tie to drones?
The uproot of drone technology in daily human life arises via logistical application. There are more than 2500 registered logistical firms operating in the U.S., adding to numerous others that operate at a smaller scale of delivery like restaurants, takeaways and super stores. The concept of drones is introduced to leverage the human involvement in the process of complete and safe package delivery and logistical operation. This method could prove to be revolutionary for individuals and businesses in rather remote and inaccessible areas where human or vehicular mobility is strain.
The role of blockchain technology in this aspect is critical to ensure validation of safe package delivery via drone. This includes usage of all kinds of smart technologies in some capacity, ranging from automated houses to smart IoT powered home appliances and necessities such as doors and windows.
The drone delivery solution includes cryptographic microchips that give delivery drones a unique identity on the blockchain, which IoT applications use to give (or deny) the drone trusted access to secure locations such as a home or warehouse. The drone’s encrypted chip communicates with a chip reader on an IoT-connected access point like a window or door. The chip reader verifies the chip’s cryptographic signature and checks its identity on the blockchain. Once permission is confirmed, the window/door opens, and delivery can be completed. The wallet associated with the household can pay the drone just-in-time upon delivery–like paying for a pizza but automated.
The two aspects that blockchain plays a pivotal role are security and identity management. For instance, in case of a package delivery operation, a blockchain based system could log information about the operations such as time, location, resources, delivery date etc, and make the data accessible to authenticated users, and any other stakeholders along a package’s route.
The focus of a remote identification is to enable public or private entities interested with a drone flight to detect and report an identifier number to the authorities. The authorities in turn would have the tools to investigate the complaint without infringing on operator privacy.
For example: As a drone approaches a delivery box, it authenticates itself with a “blockchain identifier,” a type of numeric or encrypted key. If the code is valid, then the box unlocks, opens, and accepts the package. When a package arrives at its destination, its receipt could trigger a notification to be sent to a consumers’ mobile device. A supplier can use a blockchain not only to authenticate identity, but to also track other useful information about a package as it moves through a supply chain.
Blockchain identifier based identification system potentially would protect drone user information and any confidential information about the nature and objective of the drone missions. Monitoring and reporting potential complaints by the public about inappropriate drone usage, damage to public safety or personal property can be handled by using the broadcasted blockchain drone identifier which would be tied to an audit trail. The identifier would keep the public informed on information like the drones surveillance capabilities without releasing personal information about the drone operators.
Real life example
SKYFchain, is the first B2R (Business-to-Robots) blockchain based operating system. A SKYF drone, designed by a team of Russian aviation engineers based in the South-West of Moscow, in Kazan have shared their model in a featured video.
As of today, drones can only carry small objects, but the SKYF team aims to open a totally new market for heavy-duty cargo drones. According to its makers, the drone can carry up to 880 pounds, travel as far as 220 miles and work up to 8 hours. And everything that happens to these drones is going to be recorded on the project’s own blockchain, SKYFchain.
SKYF is a Russian project and the drones are being produced domestically by OKB Aviareshenia Ltd., a subsidiary of British entity ARDN Technologies. Both entities were founded by the same team of engineers and tech entrepreneurs: Aleksander Timofeev and Ilya Rodin, managing partners of the FPI venture fund, engineers Dmitry Arsentyev, Marat Sabirov and Nail Zinnurov, among others.
CEO Alexander Timofeev explained the usability of SKYF drones:
The idea is that they’ll serve multiple purposes, such as delivering large amounts of cargo, fighting fires and spraying insecticides and fertilizers on agricultural lands.
According to Ilya Rodin, SKYF’s GR manager, the use of blockchain in drone technology is aimed at creating a trust layer between stakeholders, including public and private sector interests. Rodin told:
We need a blockchain to create trust between the counterparts: the banks, leasing and insurance companies, drone manufacturers and users, government agencies, licensing bodies, self-regulating organizations, and so on.
The idea for the startup came about in 2014, when Dmitry Arsentyev was trying to create a flying motorbike – but in the end, he wound up working on an industrial drone with Sabirov and Zinnurov. Soon after, they got investment and support from FPI back in 2014, Inc. Russia wrote.
Timofeev explained the inception as:
Initially, the guys had a prototype of a self-piloting flying taxi, we realized that the system was new and viable, but we convinced them to transform it into an unmanned cargo platform.
Timofeev believes that drone delivery will be in demand in the areas with bad road infrastructure. This is especially the case in places like northern Russia and the banks of large Siberian rivers, where bridges are far apart from one another and getting from one side to the other using road vehicles means miles of extra driving.
The company has already secured partnerships with Vietnamese port ITC, a Chinese delivery company ZTO Express and a number of Russian entities, including agricultural, delivery and oil and gas companies, as well as the Department of Transportation of the Far East region of Khabarovsk.
The parties involved have signed preliminary agreements to test the SKYF drones for possible applications in their businesses.