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Pedal to the Metal in 2021 for Distributed and Decentralized Mobility

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This is a guest opinion post from Tram Vo, Founder and COO of MOBI.

While considered by many to be one of the most difficult years for business, 2020 has been a catalyst for enterprise blockchain, notably for distributed and decentralized mobility. Call me biased. For both public and private sectors, the pandemic amplified the need to accelerate their digital transformation to emerge stronger, more efficient, and trusted. Blockchain can accelerate these transformations. The catch is scalable blockchain is a multi-team sport and requires cross-ecosystem collaboration. In 2021 killer apps will be about “collaboration to conquer.” Divided we fail.

Research and development take time, and so do regulatory adjustments, socialization, and collaboration. Early proofs-of-concept (PoCs) within corporate silos showed that while it was easy to register an asset on a chain and that various services could be replicated, there were no efficient, agreed ways to communicate, share, and settle with third parties outside the silo. Business protocols, standards, naming conventions, and, above all, networks for ecosystem business collaboration didn’t exist. While siloed blockchain applications could be built, they couldn’t scale. Without an ecosystem and cross-industry participation, the distributed applications had nothing to plug into, nothing to share, and not a lot of value to offer. Therefore no killer app. The iron rules of network economics apply to enterprise blockchain — the value of the network grows as the square of the participants and the square of one is still one.

Before the adoption of any revolutionary technology, industries need standards and specifications to build the foundational infrastructure enabling the creation of products and services that can communicate and work together. MOBI was formed in 2018 to create blockchain-based standards for distributed and decentralized mobility. We can not have a digital transformation without digital twins. Therefore the first MOBI Standard released was the vehicle identity, the birth of a vehicle. MOBI has six working groups (WGs) working on use cases and business requirements for technical specification standards:

  • Vehicle Identity (VID) II — vehicle registration and maintenance
  • Usage-Based Insurance (UBI) — pay as you go insurance/mobility
  • Electric Vehicle Grid Integration (EVGI) — aims to aid the increasing adoption of EV by creating interoperable systems for governments, utilities, and the mobility industry
  • Connected Mobility Data Marketplace (CMDM) — enable a blockchain-based data marketplace for all stakeholders of the mobility and transportation ecosystem 
  • Finance, Securitization, and Smart Contract (FSSC) — credit on blockchain, securitization, tokenization of mobility assets, and fractional ownership of mobility assets, among others
  • Supply Chain (SC) — enable operational efficiencies in the automotive supply chain

No matter how good the standards are, at the end of the day, they are just pieces of paper with writing on them. They need to be adopted and implemented to create impactful outcomes for the ecosystem. To do that, we’ve launched a new program in 2020 to build the Open Mobility Network (OMN), a protocol-agnostic, community-owned and built automated business to business (B2B) network based on MOBI standards to share, exchange, and monetize transportation services and data. The overall goal of the OMN is to create an interoperable ecosystem with increased trust, transparency, coordination, and automation for all stakeholders.

MOBI is not a blockchain project. We are a community and ecosystem project that progresses from A to Z methodically by building the “plumbing” in between. We don’t rely solely on members’ volunteered time to create deliverables, we have MOBI team members executing projects with a multi-year implementation strategy. For example, each of our WGs has three MOBI team members supporting it:

  • Working Group Lead — oversees the WG and collaborate with the enterprise Co-chairs to steer the WG in the right direction
  • Technical Lead — provide technical support and oversight
  • Fellow — research and administrative support

This past year, progress has been made in enterprise with the convergence of blockchain, IoT, AI, 5G, and enhanced GPS (real time location). The convergence of these rapidly maturing technologies permits anything —a person, a vehicle, or a piece of infrastructure— to have a secure identity, be intelligent, and securely transact with other things. The goal is a connected mobility infrastructure exchanging services and payments seamlessly, with decentralized identities and real time locations enabling “Trusted Trips” and trillions of dollars of new business opportunities. These allow for usage-based consumption of Transportation Services.

2021 will be the year for viable business networks to emerge for key industries with use cases, numbers, and scale to be successful. The killer app for 2021 will be Decentralized Integrator. Blockchain is the key innovation required to create networks where no one has privileged access to the root directory. Therefore there’s trust and you don’t have to rely on someone’s good intention. To create a decentralized integrator for the ecosystem, we’ve been building Citopia for smart city applications leveraging MOBI standards and the OMN. Citopia is a Coordination and Payment Platform built on blockchain to enable data privacy and integration of users with providers through decentralized applications (dAPPs).

At the heart of Citopia is the ability to combine the MOBI VID, vehicle location in time and space, and connected vehicle telematics to create a Trusted Trip that enables pay as you go monetization of mobility assets and services. Marginal cost pricing for roads and curbs, insurance, carbon footprint pricing, multimodal transit, and many other applications can be offered by dAPPs running within the ecosystem.

Even more promising, the emerging business ecosystems like MOBI are themselves beginning to collaborate to gain scale, strengthen their network economics, and reach the tipping point of mass adoption sooner. In October 2020, MOBI signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Communications Business Automation Network (CBAN). Under the MOU, both CBAN and MOBI agree to collaborate to define core services (governance, identity, assurance, technical negotiation, etc.) for their respective roaming connected devices. This will allow automated and decentralized business processes, executed by edge devices, to be fully interoperable between MOBI and CBAN. By joining forces, the network economics are much stronger. Members of both consortia recognize that there are significant first mover advantages and high barriers to later entrants. The ability of roaming devices, whether they be vehicles or phones, to autonomously transact, pay for infrastructure, share their intentions and coordinate their plans will arrive before, and ultimately have far more impact on our transportation systems, than self driving cars.

The blockchain hype of the last decade wasn’t wrong, just premature. Lead times are long and foundational work was needed before even the closest applications could be realized. This work included standards development and adoption, agreement on the early use cases, community building, and, of course, building the shared network services. The good news, and what gives us cause for optimism, is that much of this is either completed or now underway.


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