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Self-driving cars are the future of transportation. That much is certain. But what’s not certain is how the surrounding infrastructure—roads, charging stations, parking lots, insurance, etc.—will adapt.
When a driverless vehicle needs to recharge its battery, use a toll road or park, who will pay? And how will the transaction occur?
These are the kinds of questions we’ve been asking at ZF Friedrichshafen. Our answer is Car eWallet—a transaction platform that can facilitate payments of all kinds, with any type of vendor, automatically. Car eWallet will integrate mobility services, vehicles and infrastructure from end to end, enabling cars to become autonomous business entities that can pay in real time for services like parking and charging.
Paving the road to innovation
Where do you start when building a platform of such scale and complexity? At ZF Friedrichshafen, we knew we needed an open platform to connect with ecosystem partners and handle incredibly high transaction volumes, all with enterprise levels of security and authentication.
And we actually started building a Car eWallet prototype in-house, evaluating technology stacks and how they would play out for the larger market. What we found is that it wasn’t feasible to build something from the ground up and get to the scale we needed.
That’s when we made the decision to use the IBM Blockchain Platform, based on the Hyperledger Fabric. The technology allowed us to take our solution to the next level and install a functional prototype in a vehicle’s engine control unit.
The real-time demonstration made it clear just how much Car eWallet can transform the driving experience and the whole transportation ecosystem.
Driving toward a new paradigm for car ownership
With blockchain as its foundation, Car eWallet offers a single, token-based payment system that automates and consolidates all the transactions drivers already conduct. That can include fees and payments for parking, toll roads, refueling or recharging, and car washes.
Vehicle owners won’t have to worry about managing multiple fuel cards, parking memberships, fast passes, insurance policies, etc. —they’ll just have one subscription. This is a dramatic simplification for consumers and fleet owners.
These use cases already make a lot of sense for consumers today. But they are only the beginning.
One possibility that’s really interesting is using Car eWallet to create a birth certificate for every car. It would track the bill of materials, parts, manufacturing process, maintenance records, ownership history and more—creating a level of trust and credibility for consumers as they buy and sell their cars.
Car eWallet is bound to change the whole paradigm of car ownership, as well. It could make it possible to insure a vehicle by the minute or based on usage, or to transition ownership for limited periods of time. Turning cars into assets in this way can make it easier and more cost-effective for consumers to participate in ride sharing services.
When you look out 15 years, there will be many more autonomous vehicles on the road, and fleets will be more attractive than personal ownership. The ability for a vehicle to perform transactions without human intervention is critical, and blockchain is the key.
Shifting our own mindset
At ZF Friedrichshafen, we’re serious about transformation—not just in the world of cars, but in our own organization, as well. As a pedigreed manufacturing company, we’ve had to shift our thinking from mechanical systems to software.
Let me throw a few astounding facts at you for context. As much as 35 percent of the cost of a vehicle is now attributable to electronics and software. There are maybe 100 million lines of code in a car. By 2020, there will likely be three times that much code, generating 165 million gigabytes of data.
For us, that means we’re now competing with software companies. So this is a journey for us. As we build some of the future’s most disruptive and innovative technologies, we’re also changing our mindset, our skillset and our culture—an exciting and apt challenge as we transform the very concept of cars.
Watch Jim Gross explain how ZF Friedrichshafen AG is revolutionizing the automotive industry with IBM Blockchain: