Keith FiskenKeith Fisken is programmes manager at SEStran, South East Scotland Transport Partnership which is a statutory Regional Transport partnership focussing on a varied range of transport projects.
1. How is SEStran involved in blockchain; can you tell us a bit about your (latest) developments?
In phase one of BLING the University of Edinburgh & SEStran have been working on a blockchain pilot, GeoPact. GeoPact is a blockchain-backed location verification system which collects and confirms location data from smart objects with certainty and security. Users and organisations can then leverage this data through ‘smart contracts’ – self-executing computer protocols that run on a blockchain. Smart contracts are enabled by blockchains, as blockchain systems now include a programming language that can be used to create smart contracts. These smart contracts are agreements between two or more parties that can be automatically enacted by the blockchain’s programming when a set of pre-agreed conditions are met - such as to transfer money, or to open a lock. GeoPact is both a proof of concept – illustrating how to link virtual and physical systems – and a real-world demonstration tool, which participants use to help them understand the potential of this technology and which helps make these virtual systems ‘real’.
We developed GeoPact as a platform to allow researchers and designers to work with people to help them understand and design location based smart contracts. Location based smart contracts - computer code on a blockchain that allows the correct location of smart objects to trigger useful actions - provide a mechanism to exemplify the use of these new technologies in regular, everyday situations.
2. Which blockchain topics do you find the most interesting or promising?
Designing for change in transport and logistics infrastructures is one of the most interesting but also challenging topics. With more people than ever on the move, and the impact of growing volumes of home deliveries on urban logistics, this is an area that urgently needs design innovation. Through trusted distributed structures and cryptographic data processing, distributed ledger technologies such as blockchain present opportunities to develop new systems and services locally and on a smaller scale.
The pilot tested the potential of Smart contracts to provide a secure, programmatic method to enable people, objects and spaces to interact without the need for trusted third parties. Using a fusion of location-based Internet of Things and blockchain technology to verify and secure location data, the GeoPact pilots explored how people, organisations and existing services could collaborate in developing new services that use location data as part of their transactions.
3. What is the most valuable lesson you have learned so far by working together with international partners in this European project?
Working together is key! The public sector has a legitimate interest in the freight and logistics sector due to its key role in maintaining the efficiency of the economy and creating and supporting employment. However, this interest is not just because of the benefits, but also because of the net externalities that are generated by road freight movements in the form of road traffic congestion, carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and emissions of pollutants that reduce air quality and harm human health.
As energy is increasingly generated from renewable sources and industrial activity becomes less carbon intensive, the increasing importance of the transport sector as a high emissions contributor to the climate moves further up the list of issues to be addressed by governments. As a result, policy makers are increasingly required to take an interest in freight transport and explore interventions that reduce negative impacts and promote the use of more sustainable modes.
As well as addressing the climate challenge, a key objective of transport policy makers like SEStran focuses on improving transport access and connectivity for citizens whilst at the same time (ideally) delivering economic growth and business efficiency. This is especially true in the freight sector and key to this, is developing a greater understanding of business productivity. Freight policies should focus on delivering opportunities that will allow increases in businesses efficiency whilst reducing the negative externalities of freight to the wider community. This is especially important in an urban environment where addressing congestion and environmental concerns together with the general improvements of public spaces are an increasing important imperative for decision makers at all levels of government.
Arguably, the relatively ad hoc poorly thought out and implemented measures often used by governments do not improve the efficiency of the urban freight network. They often have the opposite effect, adversely impacting freight deliveries and collections through increased costs (time and money), therefore reducing business efficiency. In order to tackle these kind of problems, we need an European approach and European projects such as the BLING project to combine efforts and exchange experiences. In that way, we can take a far more proactive approach to urban freight issue. SEStran see the potential for technologies like Blockchain in development of innovative solutions to these sorts of problems. We need to work together to make this happen.