Hello Drones, Meet Blockchain

By Deborah Dobson posted 04-11-2018 09:16


Hello Drones, Meet Blockchain

Seems there isn’t an industry that isn’t currently caught up in the blockchain technology buzz. The drone industry is no exception. Some recent blockchain initiatives are looking to:

  • Provide the ability to easily and efficiently share and rent drones.
  • Decentralize the tracking of drones and provide greater transparency as to the whereabouts of drone flights.
  • Develop an air traffic control system for drones.

Recently, Australian blockchain startup ShareRing took to Reddit to announce a partnership with DIJ dealers to create a blockchain-based drone rental service. The startup provides asset-tracking and payments services to “sharing economy” providers worldwide – including drones. ShareRing wants to be the “Amazon of the sharing economy,” using a distributed recording system based on blockchain technology. ShareRing will be partnering with DJI distributors in Australia in a pilot program to provide an online service to rent their drones to governments, corporations, and for events.

ShareRing is not the first drone-related company to leverage blockchain technology. Mota, the company that purchased rights to manufacture the Lily drone, says it has been experimenting with blockchain technology for drones. Mota Chief Executive Michael Faro envisions a future where blockchain could decentralize the system for tracking drones, while providing greater transparency as to the whereabouts of drone flights.

“Think of when we have hundreds of thousands of drones flying in one area at a time,” Faro said. “That’s hundreds of thousands of eyes in the sky. No centralized place should have a monopoly over such data.”

Faro said the blockchain data could make information on where drones are flying and who is operating available to the public worldwide. This would make the data auditable if there is a crash.

Distributed Sky, a non-profit with experts from Australia, Singapore, Russia, Germany and the USA has been working for the last two years to develop an air traffic control system for unmanned aircraft. Blockchain technology is leveraged to deliver a framework which can be used by all stakeholders in the commercial drone market. The three major components of the unmanned traffic management (UTM) system are:

  • Registration system. This is developed using the Ethereum blockchain and smart contracts.
  • Communication system. The team works with the most common protocol in the drone space – MAVlink. Developers plan to integrate Whisper protocol from Ethereum for real-time drone communication to increase cybersecurity protection of the system.
  • Geofencing and traffic control. The map data is stored using p2p IPFS network and the drones can leverage it to avoid entering prohibited areas and crashing into obstacles.

Even Walmart is interested in drone-related blockchain technology. The retail giant is seeking to patent a system that uses blockchain technology to track packages delivered by unmanned drones. The patent application explains:

"In some embodiments, the delivery box may also include a delivery encryption system comprising a blockchain for package tracking and authentication. Package tracking by blockchain may include elements including but not limited to location, supply chain transition, authentication of the courier and customer, ambient temperature of the container, temperature of the product if available, acceptable thresholds for ambient temperature of the product, package contents placed in the container system (products & goods), or a combination thereof."

The patent authors detail how the technology could be used to establish identity within the package system. They explain that authentication and access may be restricted to specific blockchain keys to access the contents of a parcel’s payload, and may include specific times and locations.

As with a number of industries, it seems the potential of blockchain technologies is almost endless in the drone industry. From a safe integration of drones into the national airspace system to the use of a blockchain-enabled remote identification system to protect drone user information and any confidential information, it will be exciting to see any of these initiatives come to fruition. I know that I, as a drone enthusiast, will be tracking these developments closely.