Imagine a team of autonomous drones equipped with advanced sensing equipment, searching for smoke as they fly high above the Sierra Nevada mountains. Once they spot a wildfire, these leader robots relay directions to a swarm of firefighting drones that speed to the site of the blaze.
But what would happen if one or more leader robots was hacked by a malicious agent and began sending incorrect directions? As follower robots are led farther from the fire, how would they know they had been duped?
The use of blockchain technology as a communication tool for a team of robots could provide security and safeguard against deception, according to a study by researchers at MIT and Polytechnic University of Madrid, which was published today in IEEE Transactions on Robotics. The research may also have applications in cities where multirobot systems of self-driving cars are delivering goods and moving people across town.
A blockchain offers a tamper-proof record of all transactions — in this case, the messages issued by robot team leaders — so follower robots can eventually identify inconsistencies in the information trail.
Leaders use tokens to signal movements and add transactions to the chain, and forfeit their tokens when they are caught in a lie, so this transaction-based communications system limits the number of lies a hacked robot could spread, according to Eduardo Castelló, a Marie Curie Fellow in the MIT Media Lab and lead author of the paper.
“The world of blockchain beyond the discourse about cryptocurrency has many