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Blockchain for driverless cars could revolutionise engineering infrastructure

Rob Kennedy, technical director of Cundall Middle East and North Africa, talks to Construction Week about how blockchain could lead to revolution in digitising engineering infrastructure

Rob Kennedy, technical director of Cundall Middle East and North Africa.
Rob Kennedy, technical director of Cundall Middle East and North Africa.

Rob Kennedy, technical director of engineering consultancy Cundall Middle East and North Africa, talks to Construction Week about why blockchain is vital for automated construction vehicles.

Using blockchain as a platform for autonomous vehicles to share information with construction stakeholders could led to a "revolution" in digitising engineering infrastructure, he said.

Tens of thousands of vehicles are used to carry goods, equipment, labour, and materials to and from construction sites in the Middle East every year. Machines are a vital part of the construction mix and there is a growing trend toward greater automation in all industries. The built environment is no different, but growing interest in driverless cars and trucks, as well as automated plant machinery, presents a new challenge.

READ: AI and blockchain expected to save UAE $106m in document costs

By 2040, up to 75% of vehicles on the road will be automated to some degree, Kennedy said, citing research from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. More automation means companies will have to process, store, and protect, larger volumes of data, increasing exposure to risk.

"Centralised vehicle-to-vehicle, or vehicle-to-infrastructure networks present issues related to unsolicited tracking, user privacy, software authenticity or worse, the overriding of navigational control systems," said Kennedy. "Interference with vehicle collision avoidance systems are an obvious concern. However, other less direct issues, such as the hacking of private accounts to obtain personal trip data, can provide a rich source of information for disruptively-minded organisations."

Blockchain's secure record of data transactions could protect the sensitive information produced by autonomous construction vehicles. The incorruptible nature of the blockchain "could provide part of the solution to autonomous vehicle infrastructure" but Kennedy said there are three issues: computational costs, scalability, and the time taken for verification. However, blockchain leaders have made "headway" by "reducing latency and increasing the speed at which information can be retrieved".

While intelligent technologies will be important in construction-related vehicles and machinery, Kennedy warned against the dangers of overlooking the pitfalls of automation.

"We must not ignore the impact automation will have on our infrastructure," he said. "While centralised systems arguably meet the current requirements for data security and transfer speeds, they also provide us with a single point of failure and the task of developing an ultimately inefficient and vulnerable network of the future.

"Blockchain continues to demonstrate opportunities to harness the power of the internet in a trustless, decentralised environment. Rather than contesting the theoretical merits of emerging technology, why not focus our efforts on establishing ‘how we could’ before debating ‘whether we should’?".

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Latest Issue

Construction Week - Issue 746
Jul 20, 2019