The first Multipurpose Blockchain enabled EV Charging Station

Blockchainfirst’s aim for 2017 is to deliver functional, tangible real-life blockchain-enabled products for everyone. At the beginning of this year we launched our blockchain-enabled multi- purpose charging station for electric cars and motorbikes.

Essentially the “Ethan BIoT© Charging Station” offers 4 main features:

  1. Fast charging of electric vehicles “Type 2 IEC 61851–1” e.g. BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf to name a few.
  2. Charging of electric Motorbikes and Bicycles.
  3. Payment with crypto currencies like Bitcoin and Ether, either via a standard Wallet App e.g. Jaxx or via RFID/NFC Card.
  4. The charging station has an optional built-in IoT Oracle with up to 6 sensors for capturing environmental data, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), temperature, humidity, acoustics, light, pressure
The Charging Station can be operated by governments (B2C), companies (B2B/B2C) as well as private people (P2P).

Mission

According our mission “Blockchainfirst bring together IoT Devices and Blockchain Technology” last year we presented a bunch of Blockchain enabled IoT Devices like:

  • Ethan BIoT© Gate/Door Opener
  • Ethan BIoT© Vending Machine (Candy Dispenser)
  • Ethan BIoT© Smart Meter (Pay for Electricity)
  • Ethan BIoT© Light Bulb

After having presented our solutions at last year’s International Blockchain Week 2016 in Shanghai, we received a lot of positive feedback and realised that we were on the right track. Thus we decided to invest more into developing real and easy-to-understand use cases for everybody — based on IoT and blockchain technology

Intention

Due to the slow, yet steadily growing market for electric driven cars and bikes (and even vehicles we’ve never seen before), we believe it to be essential to have not only many more EV charging stations, but smarter ones at that. Currently, most charging stations are either free to use or one has to register at a local provider in advance, authorising them to charge from one’s bank account. If the charging station takes credit card payments, the fee is still as high as other, more general credit card payments. The market is pretty fragmented and centralised. It can happen that driving to a different city and needing to recharge the EV might be impossible, due to different local EV charging providers (at least this is the case where I come from in Germany). There are a few hurdles one has to deal with when driving from city to city and wanting to recharge one’s EV.
Private public parking spaces (e.g. exhibition grounds, university campuses, business parks) require a standardised payment system for part-time or one-time users — without the need to pre-register with a local provider in advance. P2P charging is de facto still impossible, as private users do not wish to sign a contract with a payment provider for a single charging station at their home.
This lead us to the idea of developing an EV charging station for smart cities based on blockchain technology and for a sharing economy where people have easy access to and sufficient supply of EV charging services.

What does “blockchain-enabled EV charging station” mean?

Blockchain-enabled basically means that the end-user has an easy and secure payment system which uses cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ether, either using a standard wallet app or RFID/NFC card. The main advantages of paying for a charging cycle this way are:

  • No pre-registration with a local charging provider is required
  • No third-party payment or credit card provider is involved, thus almost zero fees.
  • EV charging could become a de facto standard, locally and globally
  • Due to the integrated blockchain technology, the charging station can be operated by governments, companies, as well as private persons (P2P) on the same homogeneous blockchain infrastructure
  • Data capturing (e.g. energy charge per charging cycle) on a global scale becomes reality
  • Predestined for the coming future of smart cities
  • The charging station is a so-called IoT Oracle for capturing environmental data, e.g. air pollution (more on this topic later in the article).

Were we are right now

Over the past 3 months we have developed a multi-purpose blockchain-enabled outdoor charging station for electric driven cars and motorbikes. This charging station is ready to use and operational and we are about to roll-out to some stations within the next few weeks. The charging stations can be installed in walls as well as street lamps or pillars. The charging station fulfills all necessary industrial requirements and standards according to IEC 61851–1 and CE. The official approval is still pending, as we are currently still designing a modern looking casing.

On 16th January 2017, we successfully accomplished our first full P2P charging cycle in Germany using our Ethan BIoT© Charging Station. Many thanks at this point to Alexandra Grefe for joining us and being so brave in trying it out!

Our first P2P Charging with Alexandra Grefe, Renault ZOE and Juergen Schaar

What’s inside

Our Charging Stations consists of separate modules:

  • A charging controller for the charging cycle and communication with the car.
  • Electric components e.g. Relays, Power Supply etc.
  • An industrial Ethan BIoT© Device.
  • An IoT Oracle for capturing environmental Data

At the heart of our charging station lies an industrial SOC (System On Chip) with built-in cryptographic functions. It operates on a linux operating system and can run either a full ethereum blockchain node or a light client. The SOC sits on an electronic board with a bunch of GPIO (General-Purpose Inputs and Outputs). 
Due to the modular structure of our industrial Ethan BioT© Device, it can be integrated into other charging systems, as well as in other industrial environments such as gate openers, autonomous cars et al.

Industrial Ethan BIoT© Alpha System on Chip (SOC) with onboard crypto functions
Blockchain-enabled charging stations at our test lab in Germany (on the left for electric driven motorbikes)

IoT Oracle for capturing environmental data

The Ethan BIoT© Charging Station can be installed outside and everywhere. As a blockchain client (light client) operates inside the charging station, it captures any kind of data and transfers it directly, securely and tamper-proof into the blockchain. Therefore, as an add-on, we have developed a built-in IoT Oracle with up to 6 sensors which capture data like air pollution, temperature, humidity etc. The accuracy of the environmental data in a particular region grows with every charging station. Using this device, capturing environmental data has never before been as easy or as economic.

How to pay for a charging cycle

There are two ways to pay:

Firstly, you can use a wallet app, like Jaxx, Coinbase or Freewallet. Users scan a QR code which is displayed on the touchscreen of the charging station and input their required amount. When the transaction is confirmed, the touchscreen prompts you to plug in the charging cable to your car. The charging cycle begins automatically.

Secondly, you can pay with an NFC card. We call this card the Ethan Card. The NFC card is basically a wallet and a wallet address. The user can purchase a prepaid card with different amounts, e.g. 10, 25, 50, 100 USD or EUR or any other Fiat currency. The amount the user purchased is stored in a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin or Ether. The user may otherwise buy an empty card and send any amount of Ether or Bitcoin to the card‘s wallet address. The Ethan Card can be recharged at any time with any amount. In order to prevent unauthorised use, the card has a 4-digit PIN code.
Ethan NFC card for easy and secure payments

Ethan NFC Card for easy but secure payments

Challenges we have to face while developing such a system

Charging an electric driven car is a pretty complex process. There are various industrial standards and different types of cars involved. While charging, the car communicates with the charging station and every manufacturer has to implement this protocol accordingly. The environmental requirements are quite high. The charging station must operate at temperatures of -20 to +60 degrees Celsius (-4 up to 140 Fahrenheit). All the components inside an EV charging station must fulfil these requirements and be operational under these harsh conditions. In the end, we found a solution for every issue faced. Due to the modularity of our EV charging station we could allocate different development tasks to separate engineers. Our charging station designs won’t win design awards, but we are planning on letting designers work out modern looking cases. However, as a proof of concept we should be alright for now.

What’s next

We are about to implement a so-called “Long Range UHF RFID Reader” into the charging station. This technology allows payments to be automated, for example by an autonomous car itself. We’re going to publish more on this technology within the next month. Our core technology “industrial Ethan BIoT© Device” can be easily integrated in other use cases, e.g. to open a gate in order to get access to particular areas or smart meters. We think our Ethan BIoT© devices can make cities smart and smart cities even smarter. Therefore, we will continue to develop further real use cases within the next month.
To be continued…