Drones, Blockchain and IoT — Endless Possibilities

Just the other day my wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday. “Gosh!” I thought, “That time of the year already!” I completely forgot that it was fast approaching and did not have an answer.

“There must be a gadget you are missing?” she added after a pause.

I was not in the mood to be teased and did not find it funny at all. But, I have to admit… my mind went straight away to DJI Phantom 3, the best fly camera drone currently on the market. If you know me personally through work or socialising, then you know that I am into photography. I instantly started visualising all the aerial shots I could take… my upcoming 21k run in Lisbon (Just imagine the images of the famous 25 de Abril Bridge from above!), then surfing classes at Playa Cerrada for Easter… Yet, this is not why I got excited very quickly.

There has been a lot of talk about this rapidly proliferating technology recently. You have probably heard of its numerous potential industrial applications, for instance, in border security, wildlife protection, infrastructure maintenance, oil and gas asset inspection, precision agriculture, fighting fires, delivering medical aid and supplies to unreachable areas, and so on. If you have not seen this H3 Dynamics’ Dronebox video, you really ought to watch it now! It will only take 2 minutes, but will give you a very good idea of how advanced this technology has become. I’ll wait for you right here to come back and continue reading to see what I eventually put on my birthday wish list.

Did you watch it? Amazing, isn’t it? Dronebox — as a nesting solution for drones — doubles up as their grid-independent battery charging system. While the drone is away on a task, solar panels charge up the battery. When the drone returns to its nest, the power is transferred to the drone while the data collected during the flight gets downloaded and sent to its central command location. Even a live feed from the drone via the dronebox to the operator is possible in fast-response situations.

Besides all of the above new features, the surveillance and inspection sensors are now movable. Thus, the makers expect major impacts on costs and efficiency when it comes to monitoring tasks. For example, oil and gas pipeline inspection normally takes more than 18 months to complete. Taras Wankewycz, H3 Dynamics’ founder and CEO, believes this could be brought down to a day.

On top of that, drones can be networked into the Internet of Drones and the Internet of Things. Can you picture different devices interconnected, collecting and exchanging data? That is what will really enable us to deploy them for endless variety of tasks in the future.

The first drones of this kind are expected to reach the market within the next 6 months… Yet, again, this is not why my excitement built up so quickly either!

What actually opened my eyes to all the incredible possibilities this technology offers was a talk at the Ethereum meetup in London last week titled “Internet of revenue generating things” by Thibaut Rouffineau, Head of Devices Marketing at Canonical. Since drones are app-enabling smart devices, different apps can be uploaded and run safely on them thanks to Ubuntu software. That’s game changing!

Let’s say that you own a drone and you keep it in its nest on your balcony. You will be able to upload different apps. You will also be able to put different automated contracts on it since your drone will be on the Ethereum blockchain. That means that your drone will be able to perform different tasks and also earn money for you. Your local pizza, Chinese or Indian takeaway can rent it for deliveries in the neighbourhood. You can use it to check on your house while you are away. It can check your power supply so the house is not overheating. You might want to play games on it. Your drone can collect and sell data, etc. I am sure, as drones become widely available, we will think of many more innovative ways to use them.

I will now reveal to you the real reason for my huge excitement. While checking the prices and models of Phantom 3, just by chance, I came across this tutorial on how to build a $200 smart drone with the Raspberry Pi Zero in an hour and 20 minutes. How cool is that! Parents, is that not a great creative activity to do with your kids? And, how about all of you who are still a kid-at-heart? Do you not want to have a go at it as well?

So, on my birthday wish list there are all the components and tools needed to build a Linux drone with the Raspberry Pi Zero. I have decided to do it myself and customise it for my GoPro camera. That means that I do not intent to rent it out for any type of local deliveries straight to your window, but I do intend to create a smart contract and you will be able to rent it directly for capturing bird-eye shots of your special events like weddings, social gatherings, graduation ceremonies, 21k runs, surfing attempts, etc.

Can you see how all these new technologies: Blockchain, Smart Contracts and IoT, when used together create endless new possibilities? I have already discussed the application of Blockchain and Smart Contracts in the financial services industry in my previous posts. Likewise, IoT will have a huge impact since connected objects will be able to not just communicate with one another, but also to trade and transact. Gartner has already predicted that by 2020 there will be 25bn devices connected to the Internet!

There is an excellent, very comprehensive report covering the subject of IoT in the financial services industry titled: “The derivative effect: How financial services can make IoT technology pay off” written by Jim Eckenrode, the executive director of the Deloitte Center for Financial Services. It is a longish read but I do recommend it since it will give you an idea of the incredible transformational potential of IoT. Naturally, before IoT can be implemented on a large scale, improvements in the overall network infrastructure, big data analytics, cloud infrastructure and accessibility must be achieved.

I would like to mention only one area of wholesale banking that is going to be hugely transformed by the IoT, Blockchain and Smart Contracts for the better — Trade Finance. There are still hundreds of pages of physical documents being handled in a trade process. They can all be stored on the blockchain as a smart contract that can be updated automatically as the trade moves through its stages. The physical goods will be connected to the Internet via sensors, and as they move from one port to another the change of ownership will be recorded, and partial payment triggered and executed automatically. It is actually a simple concept — the smart contract underlies the trade transaction, and all the parties: the customer, insurance company, bank, buyer and seller, as well as the goods are connected with the Internet of Things. I think this is a great example of how IoT can add massive value to an entire industry by linking the virtual and the physical world.

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