Ethereum cryptocurrency vehicles: Land, sea, air and space
To infinity and beyond, in a more practical way than beyond infinity could previously be reached.
"I've delivered two payloads to the ISS (international space station) over the last two years through a company as an advisor," says Wade McDonough, former NASA consultant and current managing director of Slipstream Advantage. "What was interesting about the payloads was that the logistics steps involved with taking them to a physical end point on the ISS mimic the exact logistics process of from A to B to C... The overlaps are remarkably similar."
"The commonality is the exciting part. It allows people like myself - and way smarter than me - to take advantage, and have a better chance of creating a holistic all-serving platform solution."
That platform might be the Ethereum-based DAV (decentralised autonomous vehicle) Network, which not coincidentally counts two former astronauts, the immediate past director of the Ethereum foundation and a host of other extremely experienced heavy hitters among its team members.
"I feel very fortunate to be on this team, we have a lot of real stellar players," notes DAV CCO and co-founder John Frazer. He didn't say whether the pun was intentional.
At the same time, the ConsenSys Ethereum foundation just announced its acquisition of Planetary Resources, a space mining startup which has "simultaneously pioneered technology, business, law and policy, and brought the promise of space resources irreversibly closer to humankind's grasp" in the words of co-founder Chris Lewicki.
There are a lot of eyes on the sky.
Down to Earth and back again
McDonough's career path as "an R&D gun for hire" has taken him in something of a reverse circle, earlier on as a biomedical engineer working on medical prototypes for NASA in California, and then later applying the same methodology in air and sea freight, and then ground transport.
The logistics sector he found closer to earth was "largely antiquated" he said. There were lots of moving parts, but "the lack of technology and process automation created cost, and some time, both from the consumer viewpoint and the provider viewpoint... lots of inefficiency through manual data entry processing... You'd assume it'd be the transport companies bringing that to the table, but it's just not their skillset".
There was a lot of room for improvement, and by leveraging lessons from higher altitudes Slipstream Advantage started rolling out automation solutions to reduce the amount of manual involvement needed to run a supply chain.
This search for efficiency led Slipstream to blockchain-like architecture.
"What we had to do, quite painstakingly, was create a quasi-blockchain ledger effectively without having all that technology ourselves, so we could show the audit trail history around all those transactions," McDonough explained.
As it explored blockchain-type technologies, Slipstream met DAV and its cryptocurrency.
The three points
"Blockchain and crypto present some very very clear advantages," McDonough says. In particular its system was able to solve three lingering problems that existing quasi-blockchain systems couldn't necessarily handle by themselves:
"The ability to have an electronic contract, a common currency exchange unit or a coin, and to have those transactions be immediate. That really addresses the three core pain points... If you want to work in a trustless environment, if you want to be completely transparent, if you want a smart contract that takes escrow out of the hands of a human... blockchain and crypto are the obvious solution."
"What I found interesting when I discovered DAV, was the two parts to their business... One is blockchain and smart contracts, the other is the protocol which gives us a broader service offering to our customers. What's been a strong working relationship with DAV is around the protocol they've developed. That's where we've been putting the bulk of our efforts and technology."
As John Frazer described it, the DAV Protocol "does three things, but does them extremely well. It allows transport outfits to discover, communicate and transact with one another".
It's worth thinking about how many situations can be resolved by these three points.
These discovery, communication and transaction sections cover the industry pain points McDonough mentions and establishes the ability to make enforceable contracts and perform transactions between different intermediaries on the fly, bringing a previously unseen degree of flexibility to supply chains, cutting out brokers and other intermediaries and allowing automation where it used to be impossible.
Even in relatively early days, Slipstream is finding some remarkable efficiencies for its clients, including Australia Post, through DAV.
It's especially useful given the fragmented nature of today's supply chains, and the overhead costs of managing contracts and conducting transactions between each participant in a supply chain.
"A consignment may originate from one carrier and pass through another," McDonough explains. "So the end of mile carrier may be a different third party."
"What we're trying to do without too much disruption... is provide the benefits of the blockchain - the immediacy, the transactions, the cost reductions."
For the end user
These three functions can inform applications beyond freighting and supply chains. Frazer likes using the now-familiar example of ride sharing apps, he says, when explaining the three points.
The first step where the app "pings around" looking for drivers or riders is the discovery. Once they've been matched up, they have to communicate with each other. When their communications have agreed on a destination and price, they can make a trustless electronic transaction.
So far so familiar. It's essentially Uber.
But with a system like DAV as the basis you can, for example:
- Simultaneously explore all DAV-based apps to find drivers and riders. There's no need for a rider to necessarily limit themselves to searching for a certain subset of drivers based on which app they open. Similarly, drivers don't have to limit themselves to a subset of riders based on the app they have chosen.
- Trustlessly hold the fare in escrow until a ride is completed, and released on a certain condition such as both the driver and rider marking themselves as being at the destination.
- Eliminate the overhead associated with needing to support an entire multinational business with a portion of your fares. Most of Uber's functions can be outsourced to blockchain automation and the core DAV protocol, including payment processing, app development and work on the various pathfinding algorithms.
- Use the same currency anywhere in the world.
And when you add autonomous vehicles to the mix, you have minimal need for conflict resolution and similar.
DAV isn't aiming to have all the answers. It just wants to create a platform for someone else to go find as many answers as possible.
"It's largely about reducing these friction points - the time and cost. We don't have to be the hero or flagwaver around it," Frazer says.
This lets the platform remain flexible to changing needs in the future, accommodating near-future developments like autonomous vehicles, increasing use of delivery drones and maybe even space travel. It can all come back to those three points – discovery, communication and trustless cooperation.
The Internet of mobility
It's still early days, but by taking lessons from earlier developments like the Internet itself, it's possible to get a sense of what to expect, and some ways of encouraging growth.
"DAV has huge parallels with the worldwide web," Frazer explains. "When the worldwide web first launched, before there was any real traction, the average mainstream user's experience was dictated by the large providers. Prior to that there really was no other internet."
So for most users, the Internet itself might have been functionally indistinguishable from AOL, for example.
"But if you were a techie you could go behind that," Frazer says, and those who did found a vast empty space of infinite possibilities. However, most people had little reason to go behind the scenes and start building other than their own curiosity. Clearly there was still something missing.
"When the first person figured out how to make money from the web, that's when it really took off," Frazer said. "Decades later, there are billions and billions of user experiences. DAV is the internet of transport. We have a wide open network and anyone who wants to use it can. They don't get our permission to use DAV. It's a space for anyone to use and develop as they wish."
One person might use DAV to develop a more efficient taxi service. Someone like Slipstream Advantage might use it to build next-level supply chain management solutions for clients. Someone else might use it to build a more user-friendly and cost-effective airport control tower. Another provider might create an app that lets users monetise their someday-ubiquitous household drones, or pioneer a system for tracking Planetary Resources' asteroid mining robots and delivering their payloads back to earth.
And someday, God willing, Domino's will finally be able to press its ongoing slew of autonomous pizza delivery robots into real life use.
"A very exciting milestone we're approaching is when an autonomous drone hires another autonomous drone," Frazer says. "The idea that an autonomous vehicle could conceivably negotiate and contact with another... You might have a drone that can only go as far as point B and then recharge, so the first drone looks for another drone it's able to hire, then that second drone immediately takes over. The DAV Network could be an enabler."
It's not all going to be autonomous though, Frazer adds. "There's always going to be a slice of the market that's interested in having human intervention."
DAV builders currently include a host of open source contributors, Slipstream Advantage, MOBI, a great many drone manufacturers and many more.
Those three functions – discovery, communication and trustless cooperation are a solid foundation for the Internet of mobility, and if a builder wields those cornerstones ingeniously enough, the sky is the limit.
What's still needed?
The first thing needed might be further developments in underlying blockchain technology.
DAV needs a solid blockchain behind it, and Ethereum naturally can't yet handle the kind of transaction load DAV's long term vision calls for. While DAV is extremely closely involved with Ethereum – its advisors include Greg Colvin and Ming Chan – Frazer notes that DAV is blockchain agnostic at heart, and willing to go where pragmatism takes it.
"Our position is that Ethereum has the best chance of all blockchains that exist to satisfy our requirements for the DAV Network," he said. "If the environment happens to change, migration of course is going to be a fairly challenging task. But if it makes sense then we'd consider moving. But for now Etheruem seems to be by a longshot ahead of the pack."
Elsewhere, further legislative developments are still needed. Driverless cars are still a regulatory can of worms, and DAV plans to get across a lot more than just driverless cars.
"How we get there is going to be a bit of a winding path," Frazer says. "Drones as well, aviation regulators too... regulators have to come up with rules that make sense and don't destroy commercial viability."
"A big challenge right now is having regulations in place for autonomous drones to operate beyond their usual range... [currently] the operator has to be able to see the drone." The kinds of regulations that need to be assembled, Frazer says, are currently bits and pieces scattered around, but "all those bits and pieces are coming together."
So what else is needed?
It might be you. If you can do something with those three points of discovery, communication and trustless cooperation – and there are a heck of a lot of things which can be done – DAV might be for you.
Disclosure: At the time of writing the author holds ETH, IOTA, ICX, VET, XLM, BTC, ADA