Can a Blockchain-Controlled Robot Change the Future?

Published: 02/22/2019  

Last Updated: 02/22/2019

By Michael J Reed

Imagine a world in which your drone or robot malfunctions and is lost in the wilderness, but you can summon a rescue robot to retrieve it. At Mobile World Congress, Intel, iExec, and ShanghaiTech University showed how developers can combine IoT devices and 5G networks with blockchain technology—using the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance* (EEA*) Trusted Compute API (TC API)—to help people, computers, and sensors interact for search and rescue and a host of other use cases. Join the EEA and participate in the trusted execution task force to further develop the TC API specification.

illustration - Robotic hands in space

Why is A Blockchain-controlled Robot Important?

At first glance, something so simple as a blockchain-controlled robot may not seem to have practical application. However, this demo points to a profound impact that blockchain—combined with IoT advances and the rollout of 5G networks—may have on the way we will live our lives.

The bandwidth and low-latency of 5G is projected to motivate an increase in the sophistication of connected sensors. With Statista* suggesting there will be more than 30 billion connected sensors in the world by 2020, and International Data Corporation* (IDC*) forecasting that 5G network infrastructure will grow to $26 billions by 2022, more sophisticated sensors and more interesting applications are clearly on the horizon.

Imagine a world in which a consumer hires the nearest drone to deliver groceries. Imagine a surgeon performing a distant operation via remote robotic surgical device. Or an autonomous vehicle using its onboard camera, thermostat and speedometer to report road conditions and to direct traffic to an optimal route.

The combination of blockchain, IoT and 5G technologies can help facilitate the interaction of people and smart sensors, and these interactions can improve our lives.

Demo Specifics

The demo shown at MWC utilizes a service running on the EEA blockchain network.


iExec and ShanghaiTech University "SLAM Robots" demo video, created in collaboration with Next Generation Standards (NGS) and Platform Security Divisions at Intel.

In the demo, the decentralized service uses the EEA network to facilitate a match between two lost robots and a fleet of rescue robots. The service charges a fee for the rescue when completed. The capabilities, rates, and availability of the rescue robots are made known to the user by the service, which is informed of the needs of the lost robots by the user.

An EEA contract creates a dynamic match between an available rescue robot and the lost robots. The rescue robot departs using AI to find a valid path to the lost robots. Then it leads the stranded robots to safety.

Diagram courtesy of Next Generation Standards (NGS) and Platform Security Divisions at Intel

Upon completion of the task, the EEA contract releases a cryptocurrency payment for services rendered from the lost robots to the rescuer.

What is Intel Doing?

Intel is working with blockchain developers such as iExec to develop a common way to connect blockchains to compute resources, including the servers that are typically used to connect IoT sensors. Using the TC API to allow compute resources to be registered with a blockchain for discovery by a submitted task, the results of the task are delivered to the requester, and a receipt is recorded on the blockchain to signal completion to the rest of the network.

Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs) such as Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel® SGX) provide one method to help ensure a more trusted link between the blockchain and off-chain compute assets.

How does the remote surgeon know that she is lifting the correct scalpel? How does the drone know that it is delivering the right groceries to the right destination? How does the rescue robot know that its rescue mission is real? A TEE like Intel® SGX can help improve the integrity of the link from sensor to smart contract, which in turn can help improve the utility of the service.

How Can You Get Involved?

Announced at Devcon4, the TC API is in development within the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance trusted execution task force. The task force has published a 0.5 API Specification and is actively working to advance the specification. Developers and end-users can join the EEA and participate in the trusted execution task force.

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Michael J Reed

Michael J Reed is a senior director of Intel’s Blockchain Program Office, where he manages a team responsible for delivering new blockchain ledgers and applications that utilize unique elements of Intel® architecture. Mike has more than 20 years’ experience funding and driving technology ventures related to blockchain, crypto-currency, online payments, RFID, Internet of Things, cloud computing and consumer electronics.

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