German supplier ZF Friedrichshafen and IBM say they are jointly developing Car eWallet, a payment technology targeting future mobility services.
The payment system is based on IBM's blockchain technology, which would allow mobility operators to create fast and secure automatic transactions in a variety of situations. ZF and UBS, a financial services firm, showed a prototype in January at the 2017 CES tech trade show in Las Vegas.
"The trend toward car-sharing and future autonomous vehicles requires, now more than ever, a transaction ecosystem that everyone can use," said Stefan Sommer, CEO of ZF, in a statement announcing the partnership at the Frankfurt auto show.
Car eWallet could be used by carmakers and service providers to handle tolls, parking, electric vehicle charging, car sharing and in-car services. Representatives for both companies indicate they plan to test the technology in the first quarter of 2018 and could offer it to customers later that year. An early trial may include a German parking provider.
IBM has developed the underlying blockchain technology, software that records transactions semianonymously, automatically and sequentially entering them in a single digital ledger.
These ledgers are then copied and distributed across multiple locations, making it difficult to tamper with the data. Blockchain was pioneered through its use for anonymous digital currencies such as Bitcoin, where it allows international trading to occur without the involvement of banks or governments. It is also used for global shipping, company rewards programs and identity tracking.
In the automotive context, experts see blockchain as an enabling technology that could allow fleets of self-driving vehicles to log rider activity in a single ledger, avoiding the complexity of managing thousands of user histories and payment methods.
Car eWallet is "like an umbrella for individual projects," said Andreas Kind, a blockchain expert at IBM Research. "The car needs to be able to transact services. We want new companies to come in and use this platform to enter the new automotive world."