Security Blog

Smart self-paying cars for happy petrol heads

It’s coming. Or better, it seems it is already here, with quite serious intentions and a name that gets the intent across: Car eWallet. As the name suggests, it’s a payment solution specifically designed for future smart cars. It is supposed to take care of all payment transactions with complete autonomy.

Of course nobody is surprised. After all, if we have established that cars will soon be able to drive and make “human” decisions on their own, why shouldn’t they also be able alleviate future drivers (?) from the burden of paying?

Based on what the designers – Car eWallet is a joint-venture endeavor that involves ZF (one of the largest parts manufacturers in the automotive industry), UBS bank and the startup innogy Innovation Hub – have foreseen, the super-intelligent electronic wallet will, in addition to handling all relevant payment transactions (i.e., parking, tolls, energy recharges, car-sharing fees, etc.), even be able to act as a hub for e-commerce related deliveries. Once again, the future of the automotive industry seems to be firmly anchored in being electric, connected, smart, and fully autonomous.

Like any other “classic” electronic wallet, Car eWallet will need to be handled like a proper pre-paid card and, therefore, needs to be pre-filled with money. No surprise that blockchain has been deemed to be the most suitable technological platform to rely upon (though, so far, bitcoins – or other forms of crypto-currency – have not been explicitly mentioned). UBS has long been interested in blockchain technology and have worked on several projects since early 2015 when they opened an own blockchain technology lab.

It is reasonable to consider blockchain if we look at the actual expected use cases. Besides automatically paying for tolls and parking meters on the fly, such technology would, for instance, open to extremely simplified micropayments to pay for energy. As an example, to use recharge stations electric cars would simply need to connect to the station; as soon as the recharge is done, the amount will automatically be deducted from the car’s wallet. If that doesn’t sound revolutionary in itself, just imagine how this could be of use when inductive charging stations are distributed anywhere all along the road; for instance, think of the traffic lights: even small amounts of energy could be exchanged while “waiting at a red light or at a pedestrian crossing” and in a completely traceable – and, thus, perfectly billable – fashion according to ZF. Having a charging infrastructure registered on the blockchain will allow power to be reallocated from where it’s cheaper to where it’s needed in a consistently more efficient way. It even opens up to the possibility of providing energy back to the power supply system if authorised by the user.

Amongst the more innovating aspects that this new concept technology will introduce, blockchain peer-to-peer-based security will also be leveraged to integrate secure access systems that will make the wallet able to accept or provide payments to and from third parties with access to the vehicle. It’s pretty easy to see the impressive value-added for car rental and car-sharing situations.

Last but not least, the possibility for the blockchain-based system to authorise access to the trunk – for instance, by scanning a code – thus turning the car into a proper “moving mailbox” for deliveries of packages. This, along with all of the above, creates an extremely exciting scenario, which, with time, is becoming less and less visionary and more and more close to everyday business.

And, even a titan of the payment industry like Visa demonstrated concrete interest in developing their own, similar solution, “Visa Connected Car”, in partnership with DocuSign last November. Also relying on blockchain, Visa claims “Your car will become an extension of your payment card integrating your Visa account with other advanced auto technologies, including geo-location and 4G cellular connectivity“.

Others can be added to the party as well, of course.

The horizon is then, more than ever, so full of challenges – and challengers – in this “smart” and “unified” industry. Regardless of who’ll be the “brave ones” that eventually lead the market, one thing is for sure: the future will be bright for those who love to drive safe and pay fast.

Me, well… honestly, I must confess that I’m content with the other way around: less smart and autonomous maybe, but definitely more fun 🙂

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