BMW and GM Back Blockchain Data Sharing for Autonomous Cars

Auto giants BMW and General Motors (GM) are backing the blockchain technology as a way to share autonomous vehicle data among themselves and other car manufacturers.

It is part of an effort to unlock important data held in silos that will get self-driving cars on the road sooner. Exploratory work within that area is being performed under the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative’s (MOBI) auspices. MOBI is a consortium formed in 2018 to harmonize the development of DLT across the “smart mobility” sector.

GM will chair the next MOBI working group on the autonomous vehicle data markets (AVDM). The automaker has been considering utilizing blockchain to share data, filing a patent detailing such a system for fleets of autonomous vehicles late last year.

“I am excited to chair the AVDM working group and kickoff the development of our collaborative efforts with the other OEM [original equipment manufacturers] and supplier MOBI members,” GM manager of global innovation and AVDM working group chairman Michal Filipowski stated.

MOBI founding member BMW has already expressed its interest in the data-sharing use case. The German automaker has recognized that holding self-driving data in silos is a “major barrier” to autonomous vehicles’ mass adoption.

“With the advent of blockchain, decentral[ized] data management can be implemented in a privacy-preserving and efficient way,” BMW Group blockchain lead Andre Luckow noted. “Further, emerging technologies, such as decentral machine learning, secure multi-party confidential computing, and decentral data markets, will provide the fabric for data processing in the autonomous age.”

Per a report by RAND Corporation, reaching the stage where autonomous vehicles are safe in every condition might take up to hundreds of billions of self-driven miles, a process by which data are collected using Lidar or cameras.

Combining the data to train artificial intelligence (AI) could look like a no-brainer, but autonomous vehicle firms tend to view their self-driving data as crown jewels. That is where the blockchain enters, according to the business innovation head at the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance Innovation Lab in the Silicon Valley, Sebastien Henot.

“The old fashioned way is that everybody thinks their data alone is so precious. The new way is to consider data sets like cooking ingredients: you need to be able to mix multiple ones to create something really valuable. Data marketplaces call technically for blockchain because you can create an environment where rules are clear in terms of who shares what data with who,” he said.

Another MOBI member, Ocean Protocol, focuses on developing blockchain-powered data markets and running a shared AI on them. Its co-founder Trent McConaghy wants to create a type of enterprise data commons that is beneficial to all but at the same time, the data can be prevented from escaping beyond a company’s firewalls.

According to McConaghy, Ocean takes “federated machine learning” and gives it an extra dose of decentralization. He said Google and others have been “pushing pretty hard on centralized federated learning.”

“The makes the holders of the data feel pretty uneasy. So if you can actually remove that creepiness and the process of learning if done from silo to silo to silo in a decentralized fashion, that is much better. Decentralized federated leaning is what Ocean unlocks,” he elaborated.

That more decentralized approach is what GM and BMW seem to be enthusiastic about. “We used the opportunity of the MOBI colloquium to speak with Ocean and other members and we will definitely continue and intensify these discussions,” BMW Group IT communications Michael Ortmeier stated.

It is no secret that Google-affiliated Waymo is way ahead of anyone else regarding the amount of data it has collected. However, MOBI founder and CEO Chris Ballinger said that if you run the numbers, it might still take several years for Waymo to get there.

Ballinger estimates that Waymo accumulates a million miles of self-driven miles per month, noting:

“So you can say in miles it’s going to take millennia. Something has to be done and obviously, it will speed up as more cars get on the road. Once everybody gets involved and once they start sharing it will be an order of magnitude increase.”

But Google vice president and chief internet evangelist Vint Cerf refuted the claim the Waymo might way off when it comes to achieving its AV goals.

Per Cerf, it depends on what they mean by “driving data.” He said they have “billions of miles in simulation by generating direct inputs into the software that emulate what the sensors see.”

“I do not see additional value in the overhead of blockchain vs digital signatures,” Cerf remarked about the possibility of car companies utilizing blockchain networks for data sharing.