How Ford Is Using Blockchain Technology To Improve Urban Air Quality

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Blockchain technology is already being put to use to advance solar energy distribution and help ensure the ethical sourcing of the rare-earth minerals used in advanced electric powertrains. Now, Ford is using the emerging technology, as well as dynamic geofencing and EV/PHEVs, to help reduce air pollution in European city centers. And, if the program works, it could lead to similar efforts to improve urban air quality on our side of the pond, as well.

Image courtesy Ford.

Blockchain offers a fully transparent, totally unchangeable ledger of transactions. Each of those transactions, roughly, makes up a “block” which connects to other blocks in a long chain of blocks by means of a checksum, which is a block of data derived from the previous block in the chain that serves to verify the integrity of the data in both blocks and “cement” the block’s place in the chain. Once in place in the blockchain, that block’s place can never be altered or erased. Over in Germany, a team from Ford is working to show how blockchain can complement geofencing — the creation of a digital “fence” around a given, real geographic area — to enhance governments’ efforts to improve urban air quality for their citizens.

The way it works is that low-emission and zero-emission vehicles like the Ford Transit PHEV are tracked as they enter and leave the low-emissions “green zones” that are becoming commonplace across Europe in the wake of diesel engine bans. The Ford vans offer geofencing technology as standard, which allows fleet managers to keep drivers in their given work zones and puts the van into a “pure” EV mode as it enters and leaves the green zones. The municipal fleet in Cologne, Germany, took that geofencing a step further by using blockchain technology to record the vans’ movements into a blockchain ledger, so that the number of “green miles” driven in that city’s low-emission zone could be securely and transparently stored online, where it could be shared among relevant stakeholders without being manipulated by one party or another to advance their own agenda.

The trial also is also targeting the effects of dynamic geo fencing on overall air quality, instead of a fixed low-emission zone triggering the vehicles’ zero-emission modes. In practice, that meant Ford’s dynamic geofencing was constantly switching between “pure” EV and ICE drive based on air quality data that was being captured by weather science company Climacell and the City of Cologne. As pollution shifted amid changing winds, shifting weather conditions, and pedestrian traffic patterns, the hybrids kicked in their electric drives where they would be most beneficial, and switched on the ICE where its direct impact on people could be minimized.

“Our research has shown how plug-in hybrid vehicles, and emerging connected technologies such as dynamic geofencing and blockchain, can play a major role in transforming cities,” said Mark Harvey, director of enterprise connectivity for Ford in Europe. “With their zero-emission capability … PHEVs offer a practical, flexible alternative to diesel.”

The work being done in Cologne (and, at the same time, in Spain) is a continuation of a similar research program that began in London in 2018. Considered successful by the UK Government-funded “Advanced Propulsion Centre and Transport for London,” participants of the study including Addison Lee Group, British Gas, Metropolitan Police, and Sky helped to show how PHEVs could offer a compelling solution for commercial vehicle owners in cities with low-emission zones. Volvo is doing something similar in Gothenburg, Sweden, as well, and it may be only a matter of time before urban air quality trials like this begin in the US.

Source | Images: Ford.

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