Earlier this year I wrote an article for the DevTeamSpace blog on How to Secure the Internet of Things (IoT) with Blockchain. In this article, I made the claim that “the combination of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain technology is set to revolutionize the world we live in”, an opinion that is shared by many others.
As a follow up to this article, I have decided to write a piece on the potential blockchain use cases for IoT solutions. This is a truly fascinating field that even top industry experts are not sure the full potential of.
The combination of the Internet-of-Things and blockchain technology has enormous potential to change many of the processes we all rely on today, but when combined, have even greater potential.
In this article, I aim to give a brief explanation of the two technologies before going on to examine how combined blockchain IOT applications would work and what their potential uses are. Since both technologies are still relatively underdeveloped, we can only speculate at exactly which traditional solutions they are set to replace.
I will try to keep my predictions in line with the current prevailing thought as to exactly where these two new technologies are going to take us.
What is IoT?
IoT or Internet of Things is an interconnected network of smart devices that include everything from our phones, baby monitors, fridges, front door keys etc. Increasingly, these devices are becoming integrated into our lives.
According to Wikipedia, “The number of IoT devices increased 31% year-over-year to 8.4 billion in 2017 and it is estimated that there will be 30 billion devices by 2020. The global market value of IoT is projected to reach $7.1 trillion by 2020”.
There are already lots of examples of IoT networks in use today. One welcomed example of an IoT smart device is the Petnet Smart Pet Feeder. This device allows us to automate the feeding of our pets. It is able to determine which is the best type of food for your dog or cat and order it via online stores.
The feeder will then automate the amount and times when your pet can eat according to what is best for it. This device can be controlled via any smartphone so owners can ensure that their pet is being fed even if they are halfway around the world on holiday.
What is Blockchain?
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Blockchain is a concept first outlined by the enigmatic Satoshi Nakamoto in his paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System“. He proposed this new technology as a way to solve the duplication problem that prevented the creation of a viable digital currency.
He would go on to launch Bitcoin, the first and to date, the most successful cryptocurrency.
Without blockchain, Bitcoin could not exist. It allows for the creation of a secure digital ledger that is composed of a series of data blocks that are effectively linked via cryptography in a chain according to when they were created.
These blocks can hold any type of data that the user requires, in the case of Bitcoin, this information is transaction data that includes a timestamp and hash data to link to the previous block.
Blockchain ledgers are also decentralized making them incredibly secure. Once a data block is written, it cannot be altered. Since every participant or node on the blockchain has a complete record of all the transactions to have ever taken place, any attempt to change a block will be prevented by the other nodes.
IoT and blockchain technology: Advantages
Now that we have a clear understanding of what IoT and blockchain are all about, we can take a closer look at how these two technologies can be used in parallel to create exciting new software solutions.
Since the main selling point of blockchain is security, I will start by looking at how using blockchain to secure the internet of things will make many of the apps we use in the future safer and more secure from cyber-attacks.
Using blockchain with IoT stands to benefit applications enormously. Current applications rely on the client-server model in order to function. In essence, this means that all devices are connected to one central authority that controls the network and data.
Time and time again, this central flaw to this model has allowed hackers to gain control of networks and steal data and even access webcams and speakerphones in people‘s homes.
The blockchain model would prevent such attacks from happening. Since a decentralized database would remove any one point of weakness attackers would have to target individual nodes on the network instead.
Any attack on an individual node on the network would also be futile as all the other nodes would resist any attempt to alter the data. Since data is held in a blockchain is secured by cryptography it is much safer than with a traditional client-server database.
Increased Speed of Transactions
Another advantage of employing blockchain solutions to IoT networks is the potential to increase the speed of transactions. This advantage is very specific to the use case to which it is applied. Bitcoin transactions, for example, takes longer than VISA because of limited network speeds. Since each participant on the network is required to validate transactions rather than one single entity, these kinds of straightforward transactions are faster with the client-server model.
It is when the transactions become more complex than an IoT application using blockchain technology can really shine. The implementation of smart contracts will allow multiple resulting actions to occur automatically.
A future version of the Petnet Smart Pet Feeder will be far more independent. The entire process of automating every aspect of feeding your pet could be done by the feeder.
While the current model can reorder food, a future version would be able to employ smart contracts to initiate payments to the online store without the need to involve the owner. Once the goods were received, the feeder could be refilled at which time the entire process would begin again.
Automation would allow more complex transactions to take place instantaneously. This has enormous benefits for IoT users.
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While there is still much debate regarding the true cost of blockchain databases (in several countries the cost of mining a single Bitcoin currently exceeds $10,000), the overall consensus is that IoT networks costs would be reduced significantly.
The biggest reduction in costs will come from removing intermediaries and automating more complex transactions. Smart contracts only require relatively small ’gas‘ fees to automate many of the processes that currently take time-consuming human intervention.
Current blockchain IoT projects:
Building a Truly Sustainable Future – Revolutionizing the energy supply chain
One of the most notable blockchain IoT companies is PETRAS P2P – IoET. This company is looking to completely revolutionize the energy industry. Their aim is to bring together small energy suppliers with energy consumers.
So ideal for this purpose is blockchain technology that it would literally allow anyone to generate power which could then be fed into the electricity grid. These energy providers would be paid a going rate for the energy that they provide automatically via the PETRAS P2P blockchain network.
Since this system would be entirely automated, relying as it would on a special IoT energy production device, cost savings could be passed onto the customers making this solution a win-win for all parties concerned.
The enormous untapped potential of the millions of homes to generate power could help us dramatically reduce global fossil fuel consumption. Currently, solar power only accounts for a few percent of global power consumption.
There are lots of other industries that stand to benefit from this blockchain supply chain revolution. The global shipping industry stands to be one of the biggest winners as fully automated supply chains are able to track goods in real-time from factories to warehouses and stores.
Real-time Health Care
In my article “Blockchain in Healthcare”, I examined the ways in which the healthcare industry stands to benefit from blockchain implementation. One of the topics I covered was how IoT devices would be able to dramatically improve the healthcare we receive.
Everything from health records and drug supplies to clinical trials and claims adjudication stands to be dramatically improved. Whether these improvements are shortening the time that results can be achieved or removing the need for doctors or support staff manually entering data, blockchain is going to be a game changer.
One of the things that will benefit the most is our electronic medical records. Not only will blockchain finally allow us to keep our own records so that doctors can access them anytime and anywhere, but IoT devices will actually enable real-time monitoring of our health.
Smart watches and other such devices already monitor our heart rates as we go jogging. Such devices could easily be enabled to record data to our medical records so that our doctors were able to access large amounts of data relating to our general health.
For patients with heart conditions, for example, doctors could issue them with a smart monitoring device that could record their heart health and blood pressure. This IoT device could be added to a smart contract that would initiate a series of actions should certain criteria be reached.
So, for example, if a patient was overdoing their exercise, the device could record this to their medical record and also issue a warning to them in the form of a beeping noise etc.
If a set of criteria were met that determined the patient was in danger of having a heart attack, an alert could be triggered that would result in the nearest hospital dispatching an ambulance to the scene.
Wouldn‘t it be great to wake up to find your breakfast was already ready and that your car was outside ready to take you to work? The potential of smart IoT devices to completely automate our home lives is phenomenal.
One day every single electrical device in our homes will have smart capabilities and be linked to our own IoT smart home networks. The central reservation people have to allow devices such as electronic locks and devices that record their intimate habits is data security.
Were a household to use such devices over a traditional client-server network, should that network be compromised, there is a real chance that the hacker would be able to gain access to the home at a time when the data indicated that no one would be home. Very few individuals would be willing to risk such an intrusion simply on the grounds that smart locks removed the inconvenience of carrying around a key.
Blockchain-based IoT devices would completely void such security concerns. Since all data could be encrypted and opened by approved identification determining devices like iris scans, there is little room for security breaches unless a hacker happened to own a quantum computer that was capable of gaining control over the more than 51% of the blockchain network.
All of us would jump at the idea of making a little extra money from renting out our property. The vast majority of us drive our cars alone to work despite the extra cost to both our pocketbooks and environment. Ride services such as Uber have shown just how successful apps can be when they offer cost reductions.
In the future, self-driving cars will take control away from us and make us full-time passengers. The ability of cars to drive themselves means opens up many possibilities. Firstly, rather than owning individual cars, we could buy shares in a car network which would allow us to travel as an when we liked in one of the cars owned by the network.
A car is a huge investment for any family, many of which are forced to take out loans to pay for one. Car sharing would also lower fuel costs per person as well as helping to reduce traffic congestion and damage to the environment.
This kind of property sharing could be extended to anything. Owners could use such a system to do everything from renting out a spare room (as is the case with Airbnb) to renting out tools in their garages.