EU's TOKEN project sees dynamic access control effectively improving urban logistics

21/12/2022 — minutes reading time
TOKEN Illustratie

All facets of society are facing major technological challenges, and that includes the public sector, which is why the EU's research and innovation funding programme, Horizon 2020, started the TOKEN project. The project aims to investigate how distributed ledger technologies such as blockchain can benefit public agencies, with one of the areas of focus being the management of logistics in cities. VIL has developed the dynamic access control concept for that purpose, together with imec.

Launched in January 2020, TOKEN (Transformative Impact of Blockchain Technologies in Public Services) is a project whose ultimate goal is to develop an experimental ecosystem to enable the adoption of distributed ledger technologies (DLT) and to prove its value, via highly replicable use cases, as a driver for the transformation of public services.

TOKEN brought together a consortium of Polish, Spanish, Greek and Belgian participants that devised projects in four different domains – transparent management of public accounts, public funding distribution, market valorisation of data generated in the public domain and last mile logistics in smart cities. The latter project was assigned to imec and VIL.

'There are many static rules in cities for restricting vehicle access and improving liveability,' said VIL project leader Domien Stubbe. 'For example, many towns have strict windows for delivery vans and trucks that supply their shops. Meanwhile, when a carrier does not deliver all shipments in good time, they face penalties or have to return on another day. There are also cities that are divided into different zones and motorised transport may not move between those zones, restricting traffic as much as possible to the beltways.' When it comes to the transport companies, that can mean driver-stress and delivery inefficiency.

Dynamic Access Control

'A city can permit exceptions to these rules, as long as certain conditions are met,' Stubbe added. 'These conditions might include using a zero-emissions vehicle, bundling together deliveries from different clients or distributing specific products. Unfortunately, bureaucracy often plays a role in this respect. Leuven is a good example, where to get such an exemption the carrier must submit an application three workdays in advance. A civil servant then assesses the applications on a case-by-case basis, leading to extra work and costing time for both the city agencies and the transporter.'

That is why imec and VIL together created and worked out the dynamic access control (DAC) platform, which allows for permission to be automatically obtained and incorporated into a transporter's planning.

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Encryption and blockchain

Both blockchain as well as other DLTs play a very important role in TOKEN. They allow public agencies to perform processes securely, as they can solve issues revolving around confidentiality, transparency and privacy. 'Competition and privacy-sensitive data must be inputted in order to obtain a permit, involving specific products, addresses and so on,' said Stubbe. 'The system thus requires end-to-end encryption. It is important that a municipality can trace the deliveries and the nature of the goods in transit so that the authorities know whether the exemption conditions are met. Blockchain can also play a major part in the safe sharing of all these data.'

A successful trial run in Leuven

The city of Leuven was very keen to serve as a living lab for the project. 'Thanks to the TOKEN project, we were able to encourage the different city departments to share data with each other and examine the optimisation of access rights using an integrated approach,' said Tim Asperges, urban mobility consultant for the city of Leuven.

In February 2022, a prototype version of the dynamic access control was tested offline, with a real-life test following two months later in April. That test saw a transporter instructed to deliver locally produced foodstuffs to a restaurant or shop. Smart ANPR cameras were programmed to allow the transporter's delivery van into the city outside of the standard windows, and there was not a single manual action involved in the entire process.

The core of the DAC platform test entailed the exchange of encrypted data across the entire chain, from the producer of the local foodstuffs, the Kort’om Leuven cooperative, and its order platform, Linkedfarm, to Geosparc, the data manager for the ANPR cameras, and the two logistics companies that handled the deliveries, Ninatrans and CityDepot, each of which also use their own transport management systems.

Breaking open data silos

'The biggest achievement of this project was getting data banks that previously did not communicate with each other to now link up,' said Joris Finck, imec project leader. 'We broke open the data silos.'

It was evident from the test that DAC is perfect for linking up the entire chain and for dynamically implementing policy decisions. Blockchain technology was used for the project, but further studies are required to determine the most suitable technology for steering the DAC, given that there are many ways for breaking open data silos without the use of blockchain. In that respect, imec recently submitted a proposal together with VIL to proceed with the project.

A blueprint for further expansion

'While the TOKEN project might be officially over, we're really only in the starting phase,' said Stubbe. 'The codes are open source, which means that other cities and software developers can also use the DAC and the knowledge acquired to build further on comparable applications. Both the cities of Ghent and Hasselt have already expressed interest, while cities outside of Belgium are also keen to come aboard, but we do not want to get ahead of ourselves.'

'And even though the concept can serve as a blueprint for many parties, DAC is not ready for the marketplace yet. We want to develop it further, together with the cities and companies that are already aboard, and we hope to receive EU or regional support for that,' he concluded.

Launched in January 2020, TOKEN (Transformative Impact Of Blockchain Technologies in Public Services) is a project whose ultimate goal is to develop an experimental ecosystem to enable the adoption of Distributed Ledger Technologies and to prove its value, via highly replicable Use Cases, as driver for the transformation of public services.

The four domains:

transparent management of public accounts, public funding distribution, market valorisation of data generated in the public domain and last mile logistics in Smart Cities.

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