Sharing data will be important to the future of autonomous-car development, but it needs to be done in a safe, secure manner. Toyota thinks a blockchain can provide those benefits.
The Toyota Research Institute, a wholly owned subsidiary of the automaker, is working with MIT Media Lab and "other industry partners" to explore the idea of utilizing a blockchain to create a method for secure storage of data from self-driving cars.
Blockchains first rose to prominence through the digital currency bitcoin. A database of records is stored and maintained across a distributed network of computers. This distribution means different blocks can check data with one another, removing the need for manual oversight and providing a secure record of data.
If data were centrally stored -- say, on a server farm somewhere -- it could be vulnerable to security breaches, and it could also be manipulated. Once it's in the blockchain, it can't be altered retroactively, because other parts of the chain could check that manipulated data and say, "Hey, that's not right."
Toyota sees blockchain technology as beneficial in a few different ways. Autonomous and connected cars can create a whole lot of data -- data that can be monetized and shared for additional development purposes. Tools based on the idea of a blockchain can also be used to facilitate car-sharing and ride-hailing transactions, both in terms of actual payment and in terms of using stored data to pair empty cars with drivers or riders.
The manufacturer also sees a future for this technology in the insurance industry. If a vehicle is capable of storing data on safe driving habits, insurance companies can look at that data in the blockchain and potentially lower a safe driver's premiums. Usage-based insurance isn't new, as there are currently some OBDII dongles that provide the same setup, but using blockchain tools can increase the security of the data itself.