Blockchain technology is best known as the secure backbone of cryptocurrency. But, now its power to secure transactions is revolutionizing other industries. Blockchain is also starting to hit the smart home market — a significant contributor of the IoT. Programmable thermostats and smart cameras are popular among homeowners because they automate tasks, save on energy costs in cooler weather, and improve home security. And blockchain’s immutable transaction process has the potential to revolutionize the smart home. Here are three ways it can improve the smart home experience.
Smart devices like washing machines and TVs communicate over the internet. But these data transfers are notoriously vulnerable to cyber attacks. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University showed the vulnerabilities of devices like security cameras, thermostats, and baby monitors in a recent study.
“It is truly frightening how easily a criminal, voyeur or pedophile can take over these devices,” says Dr. Yossi Oren, head of the BGU study. “Using these devices in our lab, we were able to play loud music through a baby monitor, turn off a thermostat and turn on a camera remotely.”
IoT devices work on a centralized network, one of their biggest weaknesses. Device manufacturers run their own security protocols and manage the transfer of data with their servers. But smart homes often contain many devices of various brands and models. With multiple devices passing data back and forth, gaps in security emerge. But when connecting through a blockchain ledger, smart home device communications become immutable. That is, the transacted data is indelibly recorded in a decentralized ledger. Plus, each device has a unique identifier that’s unalterable. Blockchains provide immutability through cryptography algorithms, which “hash”s data and prevents its manipulation by cyberthieves.
Companies like VeCap create a single decentralized network from thousands of smart homes. The VeCap blockchain uses a security standard that operates separately from each device’s built-in protocols. “Every action carried out on the Vecap platform will be recorded in an immutable and virtually invulnerable database,” says Imad Labbardi, CEO of VeCap. “In order to crack it, the hacker would need to get administrator access to 51% of individual devices, which becomes absolutely impossible as the project spreads around the world”.
Blockchain technology also gives homeowners more control over access to their smart home devices. Rather than access being an all-or-nothing option, users can grant access to specific devices (e.g., smart lock) without extending permissions to the rest of the home (e.g., the entire security system). Several companies offer blockchain platforms that include these accessibility features.
Comcast uses a permission-based ledger that lets homeowners remotely grant or revoke permissions through a smartphone app. For example, parents can give their child access to the front door smart lock but restrict access to other parts of the home. Or homeowners could allow garage access to a repair person, but restrict access to the rest of the house.
Walmart filed patents for blockchain technology that also gives users control over smart appliances. Each appliance receives an immutable, unique identifier, and users receive a private key stored on their smartphones. So, admins could grant or restrict access to specific appliance functions for certain users. For example, home-bound seniors could get access to the microwave, but not the washing machine.
Walmart’s patent also mentions giving users the ability to set up kiosks as package delivery systems. Only users with the pre-assigned keys would have access to the kiosk and its content. That would make home delivery much safer, eliminating front door package thefts.
3. Smart Contracts
Like its cryptocurrency function, blockchain also makes it possible to send secure financial transactions through your smart home devices. It does this through smart contracts. So, what’s a smart contract? It’s a computer program stored in the blockchain that makes transactions safe and easy by eliminating middleman services like a bank. You can use smart contracts to exchange anything of value, from real estate to shares.
Smart contracts work on conditions, functioning like a robotic lawyer or notary. For example, you could set up a smart contract to sell your home. You and the buyer could set a condition of payment to happen upon receipt of both your signatures on the contract. After you securely upload the documents on the blockchain, the condition for transferring the money would be met. The blockchain would then release the property payment to you. If the documents were delayed or never signed, the blockchain would not trigger the release of funds. This eliminates the need for notaries, lawyers, and real estate agents.
On a more practical level, smart homeowners could use smart contracts to pay in-home childcare or cleaning services. For example, one condition required by domestic cleaners could be setting the home alarm before leaving or running the smart washer.
As more and more smart home devices connect to the internet, the mass adoption of smart contracts will change the function of our homes. Smart devices will no longer just simplify our lives through automation of tasks. They will revolutionize how we transact business with others.