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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Blockchain, a nascent technology that offers highly secure digital data tracking, has caught the interest of AV companies and automakers, who are exploring how it can be used to track components in supply chains and protect valuable data.

Why it matters: More complex cars will generate more data and as blockchain technology develops, it could offer a secure way to manage that data while providing additional benefits to passengers.

Background: Eventually numerous autonomous modes of transportation could become available, including vehicles used for ride-hailing, car sharing, and even public transportation like circulators.

  • These AVs will process massive amounts of data including from their sensors, on road conditions, from other connected devices, and on how vehicle parts are operating. Blockchain could ensure the authenticity of that data.
  • Blockchain could also enable customers to use multiple transportation systems with a single digital ID, paying for transit tickets, insurance if needed, and streaming services. They could potentially have secure, transparent access to their data, agnostic of any brand of transportation used.

What's happening: In 2018 BMW, GM, Ford and Renault started a joint blockchain initiative. Other automakers are forging individual partnerships with tech companies.

  • Porsche and Berlin-based startup XAIN tested how blockchain could be used to lock and unlock cars, grant temporary access to parking attendants, and securely log car data to make cars and their data more difficult to steal.
  • Volkswagen has partnered with blockchain platform IOTA to track data for evaluating vehicle performance and to track over-the-air software updates in order to protect against cybersecurity threats.
  • Daimler AG is pursuing a blockchain-focused partnership with Germany's Landesbank Baden-Württemberg (LBBW), and has also joined Hyperledger, a collaborative, cross-industry blockchain project focused on supply chain tracking and transparency around payments.

Yes, but: A lack of standards across these projects could, counterintuitively, impede data transparency and restrict customer choice if automakers and service providers attempt to tie customers to just one service or another with a proprietary blockchain system.

What we're watching: Advanced vehicle technology is just starting to experiment with blockchain, a technology that is very much in development. If blockchain is used widely as vehicles grow more sophisticated, it could be a way to ensure data transparency and security across the industry.

Sudha Jamthe is CEO of IoTDisruptions and teaches AV Business at Stanford Continuing Studies.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.