Imagine a squad of autonomous Drones searching for smoke as they fly high above the Sierra Nevada mountains, armed with superior sensor equipment. When these leader robots detect a wildfire, they send instructions to a swarm of firefighting Drones, which race to the blaze’s location. But what if a bad actor hacked one or more leader robots and started delivering wrong directions? How would the follower robots know they’d been deceived as they were brought further away from the fire?
According to a study published today in IEEE Transactions on Robotics by researchers at MIT and the Polytechnic University of Madrid, using blockchain technology as a communication medium for a team of robots could provide security and safeguard against deceit. The discovery could be helpful in places where multi-robot self-driving car systems deliver commodities and transport people around.
Following robots can eventually spot discrepancies in the information trail thanks to a blockchain’s tamper-proof record of all transactions — in this example, the messages issued by robot team leaders. According to Eduardo Castelló, a Marie Curie Fellow in the MIT Media Lab and lead author of the paper, leaders use tokens to signal movements and add transactions to the chain. When caught in a lie, they forfeit their tickets, so this transaction-based communications system limits the number of lies a hacked robot could spread.
While a blockchain is most commonly associated with cryptocurrency, it is essentially a series of data structures known as blocks linked together in a chain. Each block contains the data it is intended to keep, the “hash” of that data, and the “hash” of the previous block in the chain. For example, transforming a string of text into a set of unique numbers and letters is known as hashing.