Think of a washing machine that contacts suppliers and places orders when it’s low on detergent on its own, maintains itself, updates washing programs from outside sources, schedules its cycles to take advantage of electricity prices and negotiates with peer devices to optimize its environment.
Seems impossible, right? Not really! This can be brought to reality using IoT (Internet of things). Already, a lot of industries that earlier didn’t fit well withcomputers have been transformed by the billions of IoT devices connected to the internet.
The possibilities in this context are virtually countless, especially when the power of IoT is combined with that of other technologies, such as machine learning. But some unforeseen obstacles will surface when billions of smart devices will try interacting among themselves and with their owners. While these challenges cannot be overcomeby present-day models that are supporting IoT communications, tech firms and researchers are hoping to deal with them through blockchain.
The problem with the centralized model
Current IoT ecosystems are based on centralized, brokered communication models, also popularly known as the server/client paradigm. All devices are identified, authenticated and connected through cloud servers that possessample processing and storage capacities. Connection between devices will have to exclusively go through the internet, even if they happen to be a few feet apart.
Existing IoT solutions are highly-priced because of the high infrastructure and maintenance cost of centralized cloud servers, large server farms and networking equipment. All the communications that will have to be taken care of will increase those costs substantially.
Even if we are able toovercome economical and engineering challenges, cloud servers will pose a problem always and are potential points of failure that can disrupt the entire network. This becomes critically important when we talk of tasks such as human health and life will becoming dependent on IoT.
Additionally, the diversified ownership of devices and their supporting cloud infrastructure makes machine-to-machine (M2M) communications tedious. No single platform connects every device and there’s no assurance that cloud services offered by different manufacturers are interoperable and compatible.
Decentralizing IoT networks
Decentralization is a key solution to majority of problems listed above.Implementing a standardized peer-to-peer communication model to process innumerable transactions between devices will definitely lead to cost reduction with respect to installing and maintaining large centralized data centres. Further, this will distribute computation and storage needs across the all the devices that form IoT networks. In this case, failure in any single node in a network will not bring the entire network to a halting collapse.
Well!Establishing peer-to-peer communications might result intosecurity issues. IoT security is far beyondthan protecting sensitive data only. A solution will have to check privacy and security in vastIoT networks and bring up validation procedures to prevent spoofing and theft.
The blockchain approach
Blockchain comes with a solution to the P2P related issues. This technology will allow creation of a non-centralized digital ledger of transactions that is shared among the nodes of a network. Participants will be able to record transactions post registrations with blockchains. The technology makes use of cryptography to check the identities of participating nodes and let them add transactions to the ledger securely. Transactions are verified and confirmed by other nodes participating in the network, thus omitting the requirement for a controlling authority.
The ledger is tamper-proof and cannot be manipulated by anybody because it is not centralized. Blockchain makes peer-to-peer messaging possible and has claimed its worth in the financial sector through cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, providing guaranteed peer-to-peer payment services without third-party brokers.
The concept can straight-a-way be applied to IoT networks to console the issue of scale, allowing infinite devices to share the same network without requiring additional resources. Blockchain also holds good for the issue of conflict of authority between different vendors by providing a standard where everyone has equal stakes and benefits.
This allows M2M communications.
Concrete uses of blockchain in IoT
The amalgamation ofIoT and blockchain has already gained aposition for itself, and is being endorsed and supported by both startups and tech giants. IBM and Samsung introduced their proof-of-concept system, ADEPT, which uses blockchain to support next-generation IoT ecosystems that will generate numerous transactions per day.
The combination of IoT and blockchain is also creating a playground for a circular economyand liquefying the capacity of assets, where resources can be shared and reused instead of being disposed after a single use. An IoThackathon hosted by blockchain platform leader, Ethereum, throws light on the concept of blockchain-powered IoT, in which fascinating ideas were presented.
Filament, another startup, is investing in IoT and blockchain with a focus on industrial applications such as agriculture, manufacturing and oil and gas. Filament uses wireless sensors, called Taps, to create low-power autonomous mesh networks for data collection and asset monitoring, without requiring a cloud or central network authority. The firm already uses blockchain technology to identify and authenticate devices and also to charge for network and data services through bitcoin.
Chain of Things is a consortium that is investigating the role of blockchain in dealing with scale and security issues in IoT. In a recent hackathon held in London, the use of blockchain and IoT in a case study involving a solar energy stack designed to provide reliable and verifiable renewable data, speeding up incentive settlements and reducing opportunities for fraud was displayed. The system aids the process in which a solar panel connects to a data logger, tracks the amount of solar energy produced, securely delivers that data to a node and records it on a distributed ledger that is synced across a broader global network of nodes.
Caveats and challenges
The application of blockchain to IoTalso has flaws and shortcomings, and a few of them are necessary to overcome. For one thing, there’s dispute among bitcoin developers over the developed underlying blockchain technology, which has its roots in problems stemming from the growth of the network and the rise in the number of transactions. Some of these issues will slow down the extension of blockchain to IoT. These challenges have been taken into consideration by tech firms, and several solutions, including side-chains, tree-chains and mini-blockchains, are being tested to fix the problem.
Processing power and energy consumption needs attention as well. Encryption and verification of blockchain transactions are computer- intensive operations and require considerable horsepower to carry out, which is mising in many IoT devices. Storage has a similar problem, as ledgers start to grow in size and need to be redundantly stored in network nodes.
And, as Machina Research analyst Jeremy Green informs, “autonomous IoT networks powered by blockchain will pose challenges to the business models that manufacturers are seeking, which includes long-term subscription relationships with continuing revenue streams, and a big shift in business and economic models will be required.”
We are not sure yet that ifblockchain will be the soul answer to the problems of the fast-evolving IoT industry because attaining perfection will need more time. Nonetheless, it’s a very promising combination for the future of IoT, where decentralized, autonomous networks will have a decisive role.
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