Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Chronicled demonstrates blockchain authentication for home-delivery drone

Steve Rogerson
October 25, 2016



A drone equipped with a secure blockchain-registered Bluetooth LE identity chip self-authenticated with a computer-controlled window to gain access to a private residence to deliver a package in a demonstration organised by San Francisco-based Chronicled.
 
The technology company, which is developing a blockchain-hosted registry and protocol for the IoT, unveiled the prototype of M2M cooperation intermediated by a public blockchain.
 
In the demonstration, the computer operating the window is able to test the identity of the drone by asking the drone to sign a random number cryptographically, and then comparing this to the blockchain hosted public key that was registered at the time the drone went into service along with metadata describing the make, model and specifications of the drone.
 
In the prototype, the drone was registered to the blockchain by Wallmeds – a pharmacy that has been whitelisted by the owner of the home – and the window was able to open automatically.
 
The innovation that underpins this prototype is the Ethereum blockchain, an emerging diffuse network of computers and consensus algorithm that, along with an IoT and blockchain protocol developed by Chronicled, makes it possible to create a secure internet identity for any physical object, product or machine and to programme smart contracts governing M2M interactions and payments.
 
"As far as we know, this is the first use of blockchain technology in interaction with a dynamic physical object and access control in real time,” said Chronicled engineer Maksym Petkus. “In a future version, we can assign the drone a digital wallet, so that it can send and receive micropayments. For example, the drone could make a payment for accessing a landing pad equipped with a battery recharging station."
 
Chronicled is focused on authentication and user engagement for consumer and luxury products but, with an eye towards future applications of the platform, some of its engineers undertook the drone demo as a hack-week project, according to CTO Maurizio Greco.
 
Since the system is decentralised, hypothetically any individual could register a drone containing an identity chip to blockchain and send packages back and forth across town to a friend or family member with a programmed route and simple access control devices on the windows. The identity chip within the drone, manufactured by Silicon Labs and running Chronicled custom firmware, protects a private key that enables the chip to sign random challenges cryptographically, which is the basis for the blockchain authentication. The chipset and special firmware are available for brands, companies and hobbyists who are interested to create secure digital experiences for physical property.
 
The demonstration presages a world in which autonomous vehicles will provide a plethora of services to customers. These drones will need to be easily recognisable and securely verifiable to the infrastructure and machines with which they interact, and the systems and apps that arise to support this IoT will need to be completely interoperable with secure identities to support the interaction of numerous organisations, products, operating systems and individuals.
 
Chronicled has developed such an interoperable, cryptographically secure IoT protocol ecosystem, allowing all involved parties to build functionality on top of it to solve these problems.
 
"Until now our relationship with the things we own has been somewhat reminiscent of a parent and infant," said Chronicled engineer Allen Sogis-Hernandez. "The things are cute, we adore them, but they lack an identity and they are helpless. The IoT protocol can change this, allowing things to gain a life of their own, with a secure identity, wallet and reputation, all precursors to things being able to self-authenticate, cooperate and transact without human assistance."
 
While a world in which autonomous drone deliveries is still a few years away, this prototype demonstrates the potential of the IoT to reshape the landscape of global commerce and day-to-day life. Within a few years, numerous examples of secure M2M interaction have the potential to emerge.
 
Earlier this month, IBM unveiled a $200m investment in an R&D facility in Munich, Germany, in connection with the Watson project, also with an emphasis on IoT and blockchain. Another team working on blockchain and IoT applications is Slock.it. Widely known for its sharing economy applications, the team is now developing an autonomous electric vehicle that can recharge itself via electric induction plates while waiting at traffic lights.
 
"Our project is considerably more cost effective than traditional micropayments thanks to the use of blockchain technology," said Christoph Jentzsch, CTO at Slock.it. “This creates savings that can be passed onto consumers.”
 
The blockchain can become a key factor in enabling an interoperable IoT economy to emerge. Imagine a car without a steering wheel that can automatically pay the petrol pump, place an order from a drive-through restaurant, and securely access a parking garage, said a Chronicled statement. Imagine a home whose doors automatically unlock when its inhabitants come into range.
 
“Such a world is likely to emerge as the next stage of the blockchain and IoT technology revolution coming over the next decade,” said the statement.