Earlier in this series, we introduced blockchain and covered the basics of how it works. For our final installment, we’ll give an example as an refresher and then discuss blockchain’s potential for edge computing in manufacturing.
We summarized blockchain as a secure, trustworthy recordkeeping process that makes the keepers safe too, as opposed to a system of trusted keepers who secure the process. One industry that currently uses secure keepers over a secure system is the real estate industry.
Buying a house can involve many parties. Lenders, notaries, agents, buyers, sellers, appraisers, inspectors, and lawyers are all individuals who must participate in the process. There are fees, wait periods and other bureaucratic processes of trust that extend the transaction’s completion time. Even with all those personnel checks-and-balances, there are ways to defraud the system. Outside of a security concern, the process can be inefficient.
Blockchain could be applied to optimize the transactions involved and ensure the trustworthiness of the sequence of events. For example, each of these individuals could pay a fee to participate in a real estate blockchain network, becoming nodes. They could submit information to the blockchain – services, houses, inquiries, etc – and attach a value. Other members who could complete the transaction would verify the record and receive payment by adding the block. Their identities would become anonymous, which would reduce any nepotism, increasing transparency. Intermediate parties who are necessary for contractual integrity – lawyers, lenders – could be phased out as the consensus and chain made them redundant.
Another convergence of technology would be edge computing in manufacturing using IIoT devices. As manufacturing plants move to cloud-based operations and management, cybersecurity has become a high priority. Whether an IoT device measures reliability data for a machine or regulates the temperature in a heat-sensitive area, it connects to other devices. Those connections add an element of vulnerability because hackers can use the device to access communications networks. Recorded data can be lost, especially if someone has physical access to tamper with it.
Blockchain technology enhances the security of edge computing by reducing the need for a central authority. Devices can collect information and store data on a blockchain shared among devices, without connecting to a main network. Its physical integrity would be less important as a malicious party could only alter the data if they hacked 51% of all the IoT devices in a plant, a mean feat for large operations. Data that did get transmitted to a central cloud would be encrypted and sent from a gateway. That encryption ensures information would not be alterable or stolen in transit.
Of course, as a new technology, blockchain faces some obstacles. There could be an initial cost, and not all devices are equipped to handle the storage requirements. Few people know how to implement it, for now, and it can require intense processing power. However, research is actively being done to improve this ledger technology and secure the trust economy.