We thank Aubrey Hansen for this guest post.
According to public wisdom, China is leading the charge on the future city—half of the world’s thousand or so smart pilot projects come from Asia’s leading economic powerhouse. But London and its sitting Mayor Sadiq Khan may have something to say to this.
Earlier this year, Sadiq Khan unveiled plans to make London ‘the world’s leading smart city’ and bring the community’s tech enterprises closer together as a result.
It can be easy to forget that London is a big player in the industry. Innovation flows out of the city through 47,000 digital technology companies that call it home. Forecasts say there will be over 62,000 by 2026; make no mistake, the ideal testing grounds for a blockchain-powered smart city could be here.
London has a track record in pioneering technology
Local government body Transport for London (TFL) have staggeringly reached about 3 million contactless payments per day. Their model is now being shipped abroad, notably for use on the subway systems of New York and Boston.
This was a natural progression from Oyster cards, an innovative electronic ticket introduced in 2003 which has become synonymous with train and bus travel inside London. Now TFL is one of the most prominent contactless merchants in Europe and this lends credence to Mayor Khan’s claim that London could be the first to implement sweeping smart city changes.
It is not just the tech community at the forefront of adoption, but Londoners who have themselves been enthusiastic participants in the sweeping fintech revolution which has made the capital nearly cashless.
Talk of blockchain in the plan is scant, for now
Workable blockchain solutions have yet to take their fully-fledged form. It is unsurprising thus that the London Smart Plan does not yet incorporate the nascent technology.
This does not mean that it won’t be instrumental in transforming the way that London caters for its residents. If a working product comes to the table and is ready to be implemented, it can only then be considered.
Great benefits offered by blockchain technologies include offering the ability to share data widely without any concern for it being altered or stolen. Primarily, data can be collected, stored and analyzed in real-time without compromise on security.
It’s also fast – in fact, near-instant – with the potential to collect astronomical quantities of data every day and put it to use immediately. The sheer scope of the tech means that it could become the backbone of London as a smart city.
The Smart London Board will be monitoring distributed ledger technologies (DLT) carefully, as they have publicly recognized that innovations such as on DLT-based blockchain ‘can engage Londoners in how they want their city and city spaces to work’ and further ‘help councils, businesses, and designers co-design, deliver and manage city spaces collaboratively.’
Just how far off is a smart London on DLT?
Two startups have emerged with the most plausible networks for a smart city: Berlin-based IOTA has been predominant in the space until recently, while Chinese company CyberVein bill their network as one consisting of entirely decentralized databases.
Both projects are developing along the lines of DLT and blockchain, but each opt for a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) architecture. A major advantage of this tech is that it allows ledgers to be broken up into smaller parts on sidechains, which reduces the burden on the main chain and removes the need for users to store the entire network to make transactions.
This makes it theoretically possible to scale to many billions of data points which are critical; a smart London will gather data by the petabyte every single day.
CyberVein has stated it hopes to have a system up and running by the end of the year and indicate a main net launch could be forthcoming in 2019. IOTA share a similar timeline; their partnership with Volkswagen could come to fruition next year.
Widespread adoption is vital and London could play a central role
Should CyberVein, IOTA, or another project appear with a functional platform then the next step is persuading businesses and government bodies to adopt and implement.
The open-mindedness of London cannot be compared to the opportune regulation-lite offered by Malta and Liechtenstein on blockchain technologies. With a desire from its Mayor, tech community, and residents to move unerringly into the future, there is also a determination to do it right.
Mayor Khan’s rhetoric surrounding the future of his city, individually as a smart city, carries with it a latent message to the world of blockchain: London is ready, but only if you can bring a working product to the table.