Blockchain is the next big technology that is disrupting the industry. This disruption is as radical as the Internet and smart phones were 20 years ago. Although Blockchain gained popularity through its application in Bitcoins; soon we are going to see the application of Blockchain technology in many other industries. Soon it will become a necessary part of our daily routine. Since I represent the Automation community; in this article I would like to explore the opportunities and threats that come along with the introduction of Blockchain technology in Home Automation solutions.
Lets have a look at the definition of Blockchain as defined on the official website www.blockchain.com
The block chain is a uniquely architected database for digital transactions. To break it down— a block contains a record of new transactions and once that block is full, it is added to a chain of other blocks of transactions; hence the name “block chain”. This information is publicly viewable on an explorer, where eventually each transaction is approved or rejected by a network of computers (called miners). The block chain is considered immutable (meaning unchanging) because in order to alter a block, all previous blocks would have to also be altered. The vast majority of the community would have to agree on the change and be willing to update all subsequent blocks.
Major takeaways from this official definition that interests me the most are:
a. Block chain being an immutable series of events
b. Distributed information: There is no owner who owns the block chain ecosystems
Let us interpret these key takeaways in context to home automation.
1. There will be a database of all sets of activities ever performed by every user, user-wise and appliance-wise, in the form of a immutable block chain network: Once we have all the data of an individual or a family. Possibilities will emerge for interpolation and exploration of events for an individual or a family into different aspects of social living. There will be a possibility to deduce the routine activities of people. For example a few deductions could be made when a person enters a study mode, travel mode, sleep mode, dating mode etc. Let us now take one mode and try to see how it going to impact the social living. Once it has been identified that an individual is in a study mode it will be possible to predict that he/she will follow a definitive pattern such as get up at a particular time, take a cab from a location to another known location, study at a particular location and sleep at a set time. All this could be recorded and observed with the block chain technology, in fact with the block chain technology there is a possibility to create a mesh between various nodes. Nodes in case of a study mode could be a room, appliances, a cab, colleges, locations, time etc. If such data is present for every individual; we will have access to the entire life patterns of individuals. This may sound like a threat to privacy but it also opens up enormous opportunities for private companies and government agencies and will allow them to track and map individuals.
2. There will be a universal protocol working as a backbone at the backend of every home automation solution: At present there is no universal protocol being followed in the home automation industry. The main reason for this is the plethora of technologies and communication protocols available that give the same kind of end user experience. For example the cost of automation of a normal bulb in one kind of automation solution can be as high as 100x as compared to that in another automation solution. Since different automation technologies are being used in parallel the cost of maintenance of any automation solution is very high. Also, seamless communication isn’t possible right now between two different kinds of automation solutions, for example a KNX based automation solution might not be compatible with a WiFi/Bluetooth based home automation solution. Now with the introduction of Blockchain technology in home automation solutions there is an opportunity to develop a universal and simplified communication protocol common to all the automation solutions; however at the same time this universal and simplified communication protocol is a huge threat to the existing giants in the home automation industry. The good news for consumers of home automation products will be that with a universal protocol the upfront hardware costs and maintenance costs will come down drastically.
Are you wondering how Blockchain is related to home automation? The concept of IoT and Block chain are like the two wheels of a cycle. IoT devices are fundamentally distributed systems that connect various smart devices (nodes). These nodes interact with each other, which means they share information. Here enters Blockchain, because it empowers IoT devices to create a distributed ledger of information. This means that while all smart devices have knowledge of all operations happening across the house and can perform various tasks that they are designed to, yet, no single smart device holds all the information. This virtually makes the IoT network a very robust, secure and efficient system.
To conclude, I would like to say that Blockchain is a necessary evil not just for the Home Automation industry but also for almost every industry we can think of. As a technology enthusiast all I can foresee is that Blockchain is one of the best bets for enhancing the home automation experience for consumers.