Get all the news you need about Smart Buildings with the Memoori newsletter

Which research categories are you interested in?

Smart cities are beginning to take shape; the urban buzz term of the last few years has seen an increase of practical applications in the real world. However, much like the internet of things (IoT) in general, its development is somewhat over shadowed by the risk of cyber-security, in terms of data privacy, cyber attacks and theft.

Now there is one up and coming software technology that was specifically designed to coordinate lots of things safely and securely: the blockchain, which was first brought to the public’s attention through its use in the Bitcoin Cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin is a popular (and controversial) cryptocurrency. It’s form of money that can be transferred securely and anonymously across a widely distributed peer-to-peer network. The Bitcoin blockchain is essentially a ledger of all legitimate transactions that have occurred on the network so far, which is maintained by the collaborative efforts of all the nodes in the network.

For Smart Cities, the idea is that by using a cryptographically secured and totally decentralised authority that can work at the speed of a computer, we should be able to keep power distribution, water treatment, self-driving transportation, and much more from ballooning beyond all practical limits as cities continue to grow.

With a robust public blockchain in place, cities could provide payment options for every business. It begs the question, why use your old plastic card, losing a fraction of the payment to an intermediary like a bank or credit card company and driving up the price, when you can transfer money quickly and securely, directly to a business owner?

Also known as a cryptographically secured distributed ledger, a blockchain keeps a cloud-based copy of organised information (basically a spreadsheet) and continually performs the tough computational work of encrypting it all in close to real time. For many that sounds like exactly what smart cities need, and recently cities in China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and elsewhere have been eyeing the technology to deal with their smart city needs.

Among the groups working toward this goal is the Museum of the Future, an ambitious project backed by the government of Dubai with the mandate to highlight how new tech breakthroughs are making these innovations possible. And if recent efforts progress as expected, bitcoin and blockchain could come to play a key role in driving the group’s work. According to Museum of the Future Foundation chief operating officer Noah Raford, blockchain is now benefiting from a broader emphasis in Dubai and the UAE on how the delivery of government services could be revolutionised by new technologies.

Under the oversight of CEO Saif Al Aleeli, Museum of the Future recently unveiled the Global Blockchain Council (GBC), a 32-member initiative designed to test and accelerate blockchain tech that he described as one of the most ambitious private-public sector collaborations. Among the GBC’s goals, Raford said, is to build a series of case studies that look at how blockchain tech can be applied to different industries from real estate to remittances.

“[The GBC] is about helping to educate the main stakeholders through private projects. I feel that digital currencies aren’t futuristic, they’re here right now, but that’s not to say the council feels the same way”, Raford said. As an example, he used regarded some of the region’s largest payment processors and banks are on the council, and that they may view digital currencies as a potential threat to their business models.

Executives from the GBC, will now meet quarterly, with individual working groups convening on a monthly basis to discuss subjects including regulation, pilot projects, conferences, workshops and other educational efforts relating to blockchains. He noted that the group has yet to set key performance indicators or other benchmarks by which to measure its efforts.

Elsewhere, Raford acknowledged that the talks are influenced by the lack of awareness and misinformation surrounding the technology. He noted that the group is primarily focused on blockchains and distributed ledgers, at least in its outward branding, to alleviate concerns about know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML).

Though he noted the digital currency may not be a direct part of its communications strategy, that does not mean [bitcoin] won’t be discussed. “We’re not shying away from the bitcoin aspect of it”, he said.

The fact is that a smart city will depend heavily on an IoT infrastructure linked to big data and data analytics. What this technology does is establish a real-time, independent, reliable, transparent and incorruptible ledger where the various transactions take place in real time, with real-time payments being transacted between the parties involved. This is crucial for the development of new business models, and it also reduces the administrative costs to near-zero. Sounds smart.