Blockchain technology is a transformative and disruptive innovation. Its application impacts all areas of engineering, with blockchain’s technical aspects providing an enormous opportunity for the engineers and technologists rapidly working to integrate and apply this transformative technology into the everyday lives of people. In the accompanying sections, I have identified engineering fields where blockchain is positioned to produce innovative outcomes in a host of engineering fields, within a myriad of industries.
Computer Science and Engineering
Blockchain has created new guidelines for developers writing the software programs and applications of the future. Blockchain plays a central role in technologies involved in cybersecurity, Internet of Things, peer-to-peer applications and distributed cloud storage. The transformative nature of blockchain is positioned to reform computer science and software engineering where heretofore centralization was state of the art. Decentralization and distributed now reflect the standard while privacy remains paramount — as it was in the past.
1. Distributed Cloud Storage
Applying blockchain results in a more secure and decentralized distributed cloud storage. Currently millions of users are storing data on centralized cloud services, putting trust and betting on the security of a single storage provider; these storage providers control those online assets. This type of single storage service is susceptible to security breaches; however, by using the blockchain, the single storage service model becomes decentralized and solves two major issues: trust and security. Due to its encryption-based technology with hashing, blockchain improves security while decreasing dependency on the provider. This technological improvement enables anyone on the internet to rent out storage capacity and to securely store actual data. The encrypted data is then sent to the network and easily tracked by using secured keys.
2. Digital Identity
The technology underlying the blockchain solves identity control problems while simultaneously securing digital verification. Under present day methods, password-based systems are used for identification — yet the challenge this causes relates to the transfer of data using insecure systems. Blockchain solves this problem by providing a secure and unique authentication system that uses digital signatures based on public key cryptography technology. Private key access bestows the privileges of being an owner, while the transaction authentication is determined by checking the signature’s private key.
3. Internet of Things
The blockchain’s distributed architecture results in a nonpareil management system for Internet of Things (IoT) platforms. With IoT devices, asset tracking switches from cloud to blockchain services while allowing for input/output activity to be monitored around the clock. The IoT’s peer-to-peer network becomes secured and the cost of providing the centralized hub gets minimized while simultaneously maximizing the IoT’s security platform. Plus, instant access to worldwide asset tracking is extremely useful across a global network consisting of operators and maintenance managers.
Other IoT applicants are possible and probable using the blockchain. Similar techniques can be applied to IoT-enabled medical devices in the healthcare industry and to IoT-centric sensors used in supply chain management. Industry leading companies like IBM and Samsung have rolled out a decentralized network for all IoT devices and their applications. This innovative approach autonomously manages a network of IoT-enabled devices and sensors without the need to operate and maintain a central transmission hub.
Blockchain is disrupting the status quo on the energy sector. The technology’s disruptive reach is reducing and removing intermediaries while optimizing the energy production-energy, transmission-energy exchange process. During the energy transaction process, customers are required to use intermediaries to transact energy; this is not the most efficient method of buying energy and subsequently results in higher costs for the customer. Distributed leger capability of the blockchain reduces — with the goal of eliminating– those intermediaries involved in the energy production-transmission-exchange process. By reducing and/or eliminating intermediaries, customers are able to buy, sell, and exchange energy with one another at a reduced rate. The distributed ledged reduces (and in some cases, eliminates) the “middle man premium” that is paid today. So promising is the blockchain in the energy sector, applications of the technology might be able to permanently disrupt energy’s traditional practices while yielding future applications involving improved metering systems and more transparent billing processes.
Decentralized infrastructure architecture reduces production costs of renewable energy. In addition, blockchain technology solves the problem of installing renewable energy production equipment and transmission systems in remote and inaccessible areas. The anticipated disruption by blockchain in the environmental sector is anticipated to result in businesses and individuals installing their own solar panels and buying/selling energy from each other without reliance on a centralized system or intermediary involvement. And then, with the secure blockchain being able to record the units of energy that have been produced, exchanged, and transmitted, excess units of energy can be identified, quantified, and designated for sale back to the energy grid.
Blockchain’s inclusion of “smart contracts” allows for the technology to serve as a notarization platform. Since complying with regulations takes time and involves intermediaries, transacting parties are faced with “who do you trust” challenges as well as the difficulty of proving to the government the parties comply. As a result, solving the trust and compliance problems trigger addition expense and time-consuming activities. Given the construction industry is awash in project-related documents, blueprints, and legal records, the time required to verify and authenticate documents is reduced by using a distributed leger that doubles as a notarization platform.
Once again, blockchain is poised to disrupt an industry’s standard operating procedures. By reducing and eventually eliminating intermediaries, companies can access the source of the document instantly and minimize costs on legal disputes and verification. Furthermore, since the blockchain ledger is publicly available, different supply chain transactions are visible to various parties on the blockchain’s distributed ledger. This makes it easy to pass quality assurance checks and to verify the integrity of transactions involving materials, services, payments, and project management records.
Transportation & Logistics
Blockchain technology can automate the capacity monitoring and performance history record keeping involved in transportation and logistics. In the trucking industry, shipping payloads are directly connected to cargo volume, which determines the cost of shipping. This data is easily and securely stored. By using smart contracts, the entire process becomes automated, faster and cheaper. Because blockchain’s immutable ledger is transparent to the network, the records stored inside can be used to keep track of performance history of vehicles regardless of who used them. This transparency makes it faster to evaluate the environment to which the vehicle was exposed while used and can identify potential damages, so the fix can be made proactively.
Blockchain has profound applications in the rapidly evolving autonomous car industry. Using blockchain technology, autonomous vehicles would not just be able to drive independently but would also be able to own themselves. The French company Mobotiq has already developed an innovative concept in connection with a fleet of electric, autonomous single-passenger pods. The company proposes its autonomous fleet of electric self-driving pods be crowdfunded by citizens in exchange for tokens that would be used to pay for rides. The future application could involve tokens that are bought with cash (cryptocurrencies) or with charging pod batteries. The record and exchange keeping would follow a set of secure transactions using blockchain technology’s encryption techniques.
Smart contracts can scale up and accelerate the production of chemicals. Using smart contracts constructs a system of autonomous sales platforms for byproducts while improving production margins for chemical producers. The chemical companies underlying blockchain technology makes processes faster and automates the procurement and sales functions. These advances enable larger chemical companies to sell products not only to large buyers, but also to smaller businesses; by doing so, chemical producers’ use of blockchain technology increases market efficiency.
Across manufacturing applications, blockchain technology can automate and reduce supply chain costs. Due to the lack of verification of products passing through the supply chain, manufacturers often root out counterfeit materials. Blockchain technology opens various methods for companies to track raw materials and finished goods using unique key identifications in the blockchain’s registry. Ownership, authenticity, price and payment are traceable. Such a high level of security in the entire process offers protection for the manufacturer, simultaneously saving them the expense of lost, damaged, or stolen materials and merchandise.
Blockchain’s smart contracts play an important role in distributed manufacturing models like 3-D printing. In the manufacturing production phase, 3-D model files are shared using conventional file-sharing methods. This process is both insecure and slow, which is why low-cost and secure smart contracts reflect a valuable improvement. The smart contracts maintain logs of 3-D printing activity as well as records product history, resulting in a faster and more secure deployment of manufacturing activities.
Blockchain technology simplifies aerospace engine maintenance and results in more reliable turnaround times for general repairs. The blockchain’s single ledger has the power to track down a wealth of information regarding engine wear-and-tear and other usage-related information that can be shared between teams. This securely sharable data is freely accessible and reduces maintenance costs and helps resolve difficult and time –consuming processes in the design, build, and maintenance of manufactured aerospace components.
Blockchain technology is also applicable to drones. The blockchain can moderate and improve privacy issues by recording equipment and operator performance and then distributing the data in a secure environment. Doing so controls the use of drones and subsequently helping to reduce — and hopefully, prevent– privacy violations. The same record- keeping methods can be applied to maintain safe and increased traffic controls by prohibiting drones from entering and operating within certain restricted flight zones.
As an engineering student about to enter the engineering profession, I am excited about blockchain technology. My excitement is rooted in the reality that the future of blockchain, with its myriad of applications and value-added uses, is bright. And this future is not just bright for engineers and technologists, but also for consumers and producers and citizens and government officials. All individuals, organizations, and institutions impacted by the technology are projected to benefit from blockchain’s beneficial reach.
As the aforementioned industry examples demonstrate, blockchain is a disruptive force. Blockchain’s application reaches deep into engineering functions and technological operations, though we’ve witnessed only the tip of the iceberg with much more value to surface and lots more innovative concepts to be discovered and applied.
I am convinced blockchain technology will permanently impact the engineering field on a global scale. That’s because blockchain’s transformative reach affects the way we produce, capture, transmit, disclose, and retrieve various types of data across a wide expanse of industries. Blockchain has ushered in a new world order that reflects the disruptive nature of an innovative technology’s impact on the way we live today and in the future.
Ana Jelacic is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Florida pursuing a degree in Computer Science and Engineering with Minor in Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Ana is very passionate about promoting diversity and increasing the number of girls in tech fields. She currently serves as the President of UF Women in Computer Science and Engineering. Ana is interested in Product Development and UX/UI Design fields and she recently completed a summer internship as a Technical Product Design and Manager working for Citibank. She is currently applying her technical programming skills and working for InfoTech as Software Development Intern. Besides being an innovation enthusiast Ana actively dances and enjoys painting.