Porsche and XAIN are currently testing in-car blockchain applications. The company announced that it will be the first major carmaker to implement and successfully test blockchain technology in a car.

“We can use blockchain to transfer data more quickly and securely, giving our customers more peace of mind in the future, whether they are charging, parking or need to give a third party, such as a parcel delivery agent, temporary access to the vehicle,” said Oliver Döring, Financial Strategist at Porsche. “We translate the innovative technology into direct benefits for the customer.”

At a visionary technology conference in 2001, legendary cryptographer Nick Szabo used the same examples to illustrate the concept of smart contracts that solved the problem of trust by being self-executing and having property embedded with information about who owns it. For example, Szabo noted, the key to a car might operate only if the car has been paid for according to the terms of a contract.

According to the company, the applications successfully tested include locking and unlocking the vehicle via an app and authorizing temporary access.

“[The] technology makes it possible to assign temporary access authorizations for the vehicle — in a secure and efficient manner,” notes the Porsche press release echoing Szabo’s prophetic words. “A protected connection to vehicle data and functionalities can be established using blockchain. At the same time, it protects all communication between participants.”

According to Porsche, the car “becomes part of the blockchain.” Access authorizations can be distributed digitally and securely and can be monitored by the vehicle owner at any time.

Data gathered by cars, including data useful for navigation, can be encrypted locally in a distributed blockchain; access to that data can then be sold to integrators and other drivers. This data aggregation can provide autonomous self-driving cars with “swarm data” gathered by other vehicles and analyzed with Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques such as machine learning. Gathering and selling swarm data, which would likely include real-time road and traffic conditions, could be a viable business model in and of itself.

Besides mentioning smart contracts and machine learning, Porsche did not release information on its blockchain and AI technology stacks. However, the company statement reveals that the auto manufacturer is working in partnership with Berlin-based XAIN, a developer of solutions based on blockchain, AI and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, with a particular focus on intelligent industrial applications.

XAIN started as a research project at the University of Oxford to boost blockchain technology applications through AI. In June 2017, XAIN AG won the first Porsche Innovation Contest, finishing ahead of more than 120 other startups.The company’s technology stack is based on the Ethereum blockchain and reinforcement learning, a modern family of machine-learning methods. A XAIN yellow paper provides detailed information on XAIN’s technology stack and solutions.

The acronym XAIN stands for “eXpandable AI Network,” defined as a blockchain-based, open or permissioned system with a focus on small, low-energy IoT devices that can be embedded in, for example, cars.

“[We] focus on developing artificial intelligence systems that are directly applied on local data in a distributed system,” notes a XAIN post. “One of our scenarios hereby is, e.g., autonomous driving, which we developed together with the University of Oxford and Porsche as a leading German carmaker.”

XAIN wants to leverage distributed machine learning to train self-driving cars on the basis of local data, enriched by synthetic and general data, such as weather conditions. This can improve autonomous driving in regions like Europe and Asia, which are not sufficiently covered by global solutions trained in Silicon Valley.

“[For] our distributed intelligent systems, we actually require a dynamic, adaptable and energy-efficient infrastructure for organizations and any kind of device to purposefully work together in an equally-distributed, privacy-preserving and secure network,” concludes the XAIN post, stating that appropriately configured blockchain technology can play a part in viable technological solutions to this challenge.