Where does blockchain sit in the geospatial world?

By Rollo Home, Strategic Product Manager

For 225 years we’ve worked with governments, private industry, and individuals alike, since the data we produce touches and connects the lives of everyone in the country. We know the location of every road, water network, mast, residential and commercial address and the type of terrain, plus much more. And this data is invaluable for identifying areas of risk, to improve planning and services and more. Put simply locationis the glue that holds disparate pieces of information together in a single logical view of the world.

Traditionally this information has been shared with people in the form of a (digital) map, but the world moves on and we’re preparing for a new ‘data driven’ future where machines rather than people will be the primary consumers of our data. Rather than a person querying the data for some form of insight, it could mean in simplistic terms, a computer running some route optimisation analysis, based on a trigger from a sensor (Internet of Things (IoT)) measuring traffic and/or customer demand, for which it would retrieve the necessary data from an OS server. This means restructuring our data around explicit references to objects. The map will remain, but simply as a derivative representation of the data. Data will be king. And that requires a new way to deliver data.

The University of Manchester shown in the emerging 3D context model based on point clouds derived from aerial photography

The University of Manchester shown in the emerging 3D context model based on point clouds derived from aerial photography – delivering digital data to people rather than machines

Blockchain holds potential to address a number of areas for us at OS, based on its ability to enable transactions between unfamiliar entities (for example IoT devices) in a trusted, traceable, relatively low-cost way. If you haven’t come across it before, Investopedia defines blockchain as a data structure that makes it possible to create a digital ledger of transactions and share it among a distributed network of computers. It uses cryptography to allow each participant on the network to manipulate the ledger in a secure way without the need for a central authority. Those transactions could be large (properties), complex (legal contracts for services) or small and simple (such as high-volume, micro-payment services). The blockchain technology could remove barriers of access to data (such as licences and/or fees) by making the transaction seamless (or machine readable). The improved efficiency in handling access to the data, and the ability to manage a vast volume of transactions, potentially means cost reductions to the end-user (micro-payments) that for all intents and purposes removes licence costs for them (something we’re keen to find ways to enable).

It’s also clear that a distributed ledger would benefit from access to a register of features (be it land or an asset) that provides a common understanding of location, extent and spatial relationship to other features. For example, there is the potential to add a security check to a credit card transaction, such as location. It could mean that the originator, recipient or the feature/item that is being transacted should all be in the same location for the transaction to be valid. Everything happens somewhere (more or less) and being able to identify the ‘where’ is an excellent way to filter anomalies in patterns of future interactions.

In the case of large transactions (property) the use of this technology for land registration (crypto-cadastre) is already being explored in countries such as Honduras and Ghana (Bitland) with the promise of simplifying a complex process in order to increase confidence in protection of individuals’ land rights. This is a basic requirement for many to be able to raise capital which offers the basis of fundamental economic change in many parts of the globe. OS, through its programme of institutional support to NMAs, is keen to foster understanding in the benefits and pitfalls of adopting such an approach.

 

Read More:  https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/blog/2016/09/blockchain-sit-geospatial-world/

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