Blockchain – Not Just for Bitcoin


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The use of blockchain technology as a communication tool for a team of robots could provide security and safeguard against deception, according to a study by researchers at MIT and Polytechnic University of Madrid. The research may also have applications in cities where multi-robot systems of self-driving cars are delivering goods and moving people across town.

For example, a team of autonomous drones equipped with advanced sensing equipment is on a mission searching for smoke. Once they spot a wildfire, the leader robots relay directions to a swarm of firefighting drones that speed to the site of the blaze. But if one or more leader robots were hacked by a malicious agent and began sending incorrect directions? A blockchain offers a tamper-proof record of all transactions — in this case, the messages issued by robot team leaders — so follower robots can eventually identify inconsistencies in the information trail.

While a blockchain is typically used as a secure ledger for cryptocurrencies, in its essence it is a list of data structures, known as blocks, that are connected in a chain. In this simulation-based study, the information stored in each block is a set of directions from a leader robot to followers. If a malicious robot attempts to alter the content of a block, it will change the block hash, so the altered block will no longer be connected to the chain. The altered directions could be easily ignored by follower robots.

The blockchain also provides a permanent record of all transactions. Since all followers can eventually see all the directions issued by leader robots, they can see if they have been misled.

The paper was published in IEEE Transactions on Robotics, and reported about it.