City and utility managers are facing lots of emerging uncertainties and pressures these days. A new approach to urban government and innovation is often urged and smart technologies are esteemed as a valid contribution to more secure, transparent, efficient and resilient communities. At Paradox Engineering, we strongly believe blockchain should come into play, for at least two main reasons.
We usually think blockchain is a brand new technology, but it was theorised back in 1991 by the mathematician Stuart Haber and his colleague W. Scott Stornetta, who first described a digital hierarchy system called “block chain” to order series of transactions through digital timestamps. In 2008 the blockchain was conceptualized by Satoshi Nakamoto and implemented the following year as a core component of the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
In simple words, blockchain allows individuals and organizations to make instantaneous, secure transactions over a distributed network. As the original combination of mature technological concepts, including peer-to-peer networks, distributed consensus algorithms, validity rules, ledger technologies and cryptography, it can be successfully applied in any domain where relations are based on trust and may be entirely disintermediated.
This is particularly effectual for Cities. Picturing a City as a smart network of connected urban objects (streetlights, meters, parking lots, waste bins, Wi-Fi hotspots, video surveillance cameras, etc.), the blockchain allows all components and devices to be linked to each other by the same cryptographic chain of trust, and manage accurate, secure, immutable information exchanges among them. First reason to endorse blockchain is thus cybersecurity.
Cybercrime is a risk that no City can overlook any longer. Granting the highest possible levels of data integrity, validity and immutability, the blockchain technology makes commissioning and operational procedures over smart urban infrastructures intrinsically secure. This means Cities can move away from the conventional ‘bastion defence’ paradigm to benefit from security-by-design network systems, where vital services such as energy distribution, public transportation, lighting, emergency support, etc. can be safely hosted and managed. That’s a huge step forward in mitigating Cities’ vulnerabilities, and finally treat cybersecurity as a public good.
There is another reason why blockchain should be in the agenda. In Smart Cities, all urban devices connected to an Internet of Things network have the capability to receive and transmit data and execute commands, enabling remote monitoring and dynamic, adaptive control functions. Smart Lighting is a popular example: by acquiring data from street lamps and correlating them with calendar occurrences, environmental conditions, or vehicle transit, we can switch and dim lights exactly where and when needed, so reducing energy consumption, optimising costs, improving quality of service and citizen satisfaction.
But what if device-related data are monetized and turned into a revenue opportunity? Thanks to the blockchain, data from streetlights, parking lots, waste bins, environmental sensors, and other urban objects can be transformed into tradable tokens. Think of the information a parking sensor generates about the car lot being vacant or busy. It can become a token and traded; parking operators can buy these “info-tokens” to design and offer their own Smart Parking services. They fuel their business, while Cities turn their parking sensor investment into revenues, also benefitting from lower traffic and pollution, and higher quality of life.
“Info-tokens” can stem from virtually any sensors in the urban network. Universities, startups and any other local organisation can design innovative applications and services by mashing-up different data streams.