Here’s some good news for Ethereum maximalists: Bosch, the biggest automotive company in the known universe, is running trials on the Ethereum blockchain.
A Bosch spokesperson confirmed to Decrypt that the multibillion-dollar engineering giant has been running prototypes using Ethereum, the world’s second biggest blockchain.
That makes it the biggest competitor to IOTA, which the giant has been working with since 2017, and Hyperledger, one of Bosch’s partners within MOBI—the mobility open blockchain initiative it’s been beavering away at.
The multinational would not reveal how exactly it intends to use Ethereum and its handy smart contracttech. But a quick appraisal of Bosch’s latest use-cases and friendly declarations about open source tech enables us to hazard a guess.
At its annual conference, BCW2019, in Berlin last week, Bosch announced a trial of electric-car charging ports, which will communicate and transact autonomously with a vehicle. It’s a use-case for Ethereum that has been demonstrated in the past.
In fact, Germany’s RWE electricity supplier has, since 2016, shown that the platform can reliably minister to charging stations across the country—all are running on the Ethereum public blockchain.
Open source communities are a key to success in the IoT because only in industry-wide, joint projects can the global basis for the Internet of Things emerge—Stefan Ferber, Bosch
And according to Bosch's website, “the Ethereum platform allows such projects, including for example, in the case of Bosch applications, autonomously charging and paying EV.”
However, a spokesperson told Decrypt that, currently, “there is no strategic favor for any existing technology. We have evaluated Ethereum, Hyperledger and IOTA in small prototypes before,” she said.
A solid relationship
Bosch has long been a proponent for the Internet of Things (IoT), and, since it struck up a solid relationship with IOTA, it’s not new to distributed-ledger-technology (DLT).
IOTA is not a blockchain per se. Like Ethereum it uses DLT but it claims to go beyond blockchain. The so-called IOTA Tangle aims to resolve the scalability challenges of existing blockchains and enable the transfer of value without transaction fees. The suggestion is that this model is better suited for the emerging machine-to-machine or IoT economy.
However, IOTA—which can be described as a rival to Ethereum—was hardly referenced at BCW2019, say observers.
Despite this, the relationship is alive and well, although IOTA doesn’t appear to have any tech trials with Bosch in the pipeline. Instead Bosch has an ongoing interest in the Berlin-based startup through an investment in IOTA tokens made by Bosch’s venture capital arm, RBVC: “RBVC is driving forward the development of new IoT business models,” said the spokesperson.
IOTA did not respond to our requests to elaborate on its future relationship with Bosch, beyond RBVC’s investment in its token.
The economy of things
At BCW2019, Bosch laid out its grand vision for an “economy of things”— an environment where machine-to-machine communication, sensors and WiFi could combine and assist a vehicle to transact with a parking space or a charging station via a smart contract. (with an oracle churning the data for verification, if need be.)
“In the future, things will not just be connected in order to communicate, they will do business together,” Bosch CEO Dr. Volkmar Denner said. He was addressing some 5,000 technology buffs, including world wide web founder Sir Timothy Berners-Lee.
At the conference, Bosch announced a series of initiatives and collaborations: The EV car charging project, where it will be working with major German utilities company, EnBW, and another project for automated car parking. The latter will see Bosch collaborate with electronics giant, Siemens to ensure a process where there’s no need for tickets or payment as everything is automated and transactions occur between the vehicle and entry and exit points.
So which of the DLT technologies that its been trialling will it turn to?
While the Ethereum blockchain has performed well in RWE EV trials with one thousand vehicles, the 125,000,000 connected cars Bosch is aiming to service by 2022 is orders of magnitudes larger (and Ethereum is in the midst of complex scaling plans of its own.) Will Ethereum be able to handle the traffic?
Bosch not only seems to believe that it can, it’s also embracing the blockchain’s open source ethos:
“Open source communities are a key to success in the IoT because only in industry-wide, joint projects can the global basis for the Internet of Things emerge,” said Stefan Ferber, CEO of Bosch’s IoT arm, Bosch Software Innovations, during the conference.
In contrast to Ethereum, neither Hyperledger nor IOTA can claim to be fully open source. And while many large businesses have embraced the “walled garden,” mantra, in this experimental phase, Bosch looks like an exception to the rule. Rather than running a closed shop, at these very early stages in the development of the economy of things, Bosch is looking for access to an Ethereum ecosystem, of investors and developers, that’s hundreds of times bigger than IOTA or even Hyperledger.
“Since all existing DLT are still in an early stage, we monitor each of them closely, without a particular focus on any existing technology,” said the spokesperson.
Bosch, ultimately, doesn’t need to decide anytime soon whether it goes for IOTA’s zero value transactions, Hyperledger’s permissioned solution or Ethereum’s smart contracts, or all three.
It could even be that Bosch may not even implement any of the tech it’s trialling. It could roll out its own blockchain: it doesn’t necessarily have to be an either or thing. And it’s likely to wait until platforms are nearer maturity.
After all, it hasn’t been around for 132 years without learning a thing or two about biding its time.