Across the electronics industry the terms “blockchain” and “the Internet of things” (IoT) are beginning to be linked together. Blockchain first gained attention as part of the cryptocurrency wave, typified by Bitcoin, challenging the norms of financial transactions. But it’s not so much monetary interactions that have caught the attention of IoT providers as it is data transactions. Blockchain at its core provides a tamper-proof, distributed, recordkeeping mechanism that looks to be highly applicable to resolving key issues associated with networks of autonomously interacting connected devices.

At a high concept level, at least, the match between blockchain and the IoT looks strong. The most compelling IoT use cases call for distributed devices interacting directly with one another rather than being coordinated through a central service. An industrial IoT system, for instance, might call for a temperature sensor at one point in a process flow to inform a valve controller at another point in the flow to adjust its setting. Yet, there often also needs to be a record of such interactions for oversight or regulatory purposes. Blockchain provides a mechanism for creating such records in multiple locations simultaneously while keeping them both consistent tamper-resistant.

Blockchain can also support conditional interactions among devices through the mechanism of smart contracts. A smart contract is code that executes when a specific set of triggering events has occurred, working along the lines of an If-Then premise. A building automation system, for instance, might use a smart contract to have all the room air conditioners automatically raise their temperature settings by a few degrees when current sensor readings on the building mains exceed some threshold, to prevent overloading the wires. With blockchain, there is no need for a central controller to make this decision, every unit will make it for itself.

Security of communications among IoT devices has long been an industry concern, and blockchain promises assistance there, as well. In the blockchain concept many or even all the nodes in the network check the validity of message traffic before accepting and recording the transfer of data, whether that data represents a financial transaction or a sensor reading. They must reach a consensus on that validity assessment for a transfer to be acted upon, greatly reducing the opportunities for false transactions to be entered in the system.

For all the promise, however, the use of blockchain in the IoT faces many challenges. There is still much experimentation and development needed before blockchain proves itself in practical IoT applications, but the industry is optimistic that the apparent promises of combining the two will ultimately be realized.

(From EE Times)