Technology answer to Kenya's chaotic transport sector. Are we ready?
What you need to know:
- If exploited, would set the country for a connected, transparent smart transport sector that combines the super capabilities of Big Data, cloud computing and AI to enable blockchain to work best.
For now, though, Kenya needs to learn this technology fast and consider lowering the cost of the internet and investing sufficiently in the smart regulation of the transport sector.
Technology tectonics have been shaking the car industry for sometime now, and manufacturers are bowing to the wind of change as the world changes how it interacts with the environment.
Electric cars are already here with us, preparing the way for full vehicular autonomy coupled with ride-sharing schemes with a potential of entirely consigning the concept of car ownership to history.
No doubt, a revolution is underway, and blockchain technology is at the forefront, seeking a starring role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
By now you must have heard of it — blockchain is a set of integrated and decentralised technologies that allow for the creation and management of a distributed database architecture. In the automobile scene, it is expected to form an encrypted ecosystem whereby the creation of each data set or transaction record is verified by several parties, each of which has to agree on its validity.
Prof Bitange Ndemo, the chairperson of the Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) task force, says that Kenya’s transport industry will greatly benefit from blockchain technology.
“The efficiency that is lacking in this industry will be created — for instance, everyone on the chain will know what is happening where, at what time,” Prof Ndemo says. “For instance, if you are transporting a load of luggage from Mombasa to Nairobi, the container need not return empty once it offloads in Nairobi. Other customers will be able to see it on the chain and use it to transport their goods to Mombasa.”
He added that this will ensure full utility of the containers, besides customers enjoying lower transport costs as there will be no middlemen involved.
Despite all the promises of a virtually connected transport sector, many hurdles abound as Kenya welcomes the 4IR in the transport sector.
Mr Ramah Rugut, the CEO of Twende, a mobile carpooling service in Nairobi, expounds on the challenges his business faces, as well as taxi-hailing companies.
“There is a complete lack of decentralised information on the state of a car which informs the cost if you want to purchase one, [and] as a result, insurance fraud by car owners and insurance agencies has been rampant,” he says, adding:
“We also witness a number of poor accident investigations by the police resulting from poor judgement. Car theft is not new in Kenya, and we still see people evading car import tax,” he says.
Additionally, Mr Benjamin Arunda, author of Understanding the Blockchain, decries the slow implementation of data digitisation in the motor industry.
“It will take time for motor manufacturers and users to massively adopt blockchain fully in cars because this sector is not adequately digitised. Most markets are not even ready for blockchain disruption, even as self-driving cars gain global attention — Kenya is not ready because we lack quality roads besides low internet network coverage and high cost of internet, and therefore blockchain-based intelligent transportation systems will experience challenges,” he explains.
But within all these hindrances lie numerous opportunities that, if exploited, would set the country for a connected, transparent smart transport sector that combines the super capabilities of Big Data, cloud computing and AI to enable blockchain to work best.
“If smart contracts are developed to create shared resource transport platforms where users permission decisions and payments, then efficiency will be redefined,” says Prof Ndemo.
Mr Rugut adds that blockchain should be given a chance to create a platform with all data about car ownership in a seamless real time manner, to allow nodes (people on the chain), to make informed buying decisions.
“We should be able to track information on car user profile, especially feedback from clients using carpooling and hailing taxis regarding safety, conduct of driver, previous accidents and recommended spare shops.”
“Blockchain should be used to monitor the insurance status of a vehicle, a factor that should really help the police in case an insurance risk occurs. This is the right technology to help fight car thefts and insurance fraud,” he says.
The entrepreneur adds that to actualise the motor industry revolution using blockchain technology, Kenyans need the right government regulation through the right policies and support.
Mr Arunda is optimistic that the system will be useful in managing data in self-driving cars and curb the data manipulation that currently exists.
“Blockchain will enhance transparent interaction between self-driving cars and help in the management of electric charging stations,” he explains. “It will also enhance accountable management of payment systems in car hiring, taxi business, logistics and the matatu sector.”
With the rise of autonomous cars and millions of devices communicating with each other through the Internet of Things, there is a need for these interactions and transactions to exist on an immutable database of shared, secure and highly permissioned access.
A blockchain system hosting manufacturers, the government, parts distributors, dealers, service mechanics, insurance providers, and others could support the ability for parts or equipment within a car to autonomously sense its own needs. For instance, a car could advise the driver about the need for repair, contact remote users for updates or nearby suppliers for replacement parts, negotiate pricing and appointments for service and repairs, authenticate the proper technician, and process the respective payment for services.
Blockchain can create a distinctive ID for every part, together with immutable timestamps from when the part is created. These tags connect to the blockchain and can be set into the part to add a level of authenticity protection.
Information on authenticity can be accessed by the person who owns the vehicle to confirm which parts have been changed, to the manufacturer, or to the service centre to signal when a part has arrived at its usage limit.
For now, though, Kenya needs to learn this technology fast and consider lowering the cost of the internet and investing sufficiently in the smart regulation of the transport sector to pave the way for a trustworthy system that benefits all parties, including the government.