Weekly Updates

ENVITED Ecosystem: A Q&A with BMW Group Systems Architect Carlo van Driesten

Earlier this year, the ENVITED ecosystem working group published the first results of its research into an ecosystem for digital traceability and proof of virtual validation for autonomous driving functions. This week, we caught up with working group member and BMW Group Systems Architect Carlo van Driesten to discuss the working group, the state of blockchain tech for autonomous driving, and the working group’s participation in the Tezos ecosystem. We hope you enjoy!

Carlo van Driesten

What is ENVITED?

The “ENVITED (Environment for Virtual Test Drive) Ecosystem” is a project initiated by BMW and managed through a non-profit organization – Automotive Solution Center for Simulation – which has over 30 members including inter alia, BMW, Daimler, Audi and Porsche as well as the French research institute SystemX. It is a long-term operation formalized as a research cluster for the exploration of a “virtual proof of validation” allowing the members to exchange requirements and commonly research technologies to facilitate the goal of a virtually enhanced homologation process. In the end an original equipment manufacturer needs the confidence that every software module and the data used for the simulation is validated and passed through a quality process resulting in a set of certificates. Within ENVITED, the partners work together to define these quality processes and design the overall architecture of the software system, including recommendations for suitable technologies. It is important to note that the activities are integrated into larger research projects funded by the German Government or the European Union like the SetLevel 4to5 project of the Pegasus Family or the upcoming European project UPSIM.


What is virtual proof of validation for autonomous driving? Why is it necessary?

Highly automated driving functions need consumer acceptance and approval, which is achieved through strict and extensive testing methods and clear quality processes accompanied by independent auditors. The greatest functionality is worthless if the consumer does not believe that autonomous vehicles are safe. In addition, the complexity of these new features result in the need for virtual methods as millions of kilometers cannot be driven physically on the road. The auditing process itself needs to be as seamless and impervious to malfunction as possible. A common understanding between all the involved parties is the most crucial ingredient. It is achieved through common standards, processes and supporting tools.

In contrast to aviation, for example, the homologation for the automotive sector  is conducted through a “self-certification” process, due to the significantly faster development cycles of cars. If an OEM certifies the car by itself – there is a greater need for “sub-certificates” that indicate that every component of the vehicle is safe. These proofs can all be maintained in a common settlement layer, verified independently by each manufacturer, with virtual proof of validation.


How can blockchain technology play a role?

The keyword for me is “revocable” as the certification itself would not necessarily need a blockchain. However, when we add the need to withdraw a certificate by a third-party and give different roles and permissions to participants of the ecosystem, blockchain technology is incredibly useful. The proofs themselves must endure the potential failure of centralized systems and one must be able to migrate them apart from all the other software components used in the overall tool chain. In addition, the software components and simulation data has its worth and digital components can be unambiguously identified through a content hash. In a later stage, the certification process will create a simulation data market handled through a common trusted settlement layer for everyone to participate in. Another very essential aspect served by blockchain technology is the clear and unambiguous traceability of data and processes for quality assurance along the supply chain but also for questions of liability in case of system failures.


Why did you choose Tezos? What aspects of Tezos make it particularly appealing for this use case?

Tezos is one potential candidate next to solutions like Hyperledger but an interesting one considering its property being a public blockchain. In my opinion the hype around blockchain technology is leading people to believe that there are quick solutions market ready today – I think we are at a very early stage and that fundamentals are more important than applications. It is the beginning of a marathon and we are building structures to accompany this run long term. We are trying to bring the different worlds of safety engineers together with blockchain entrepreneurs in order to learn from each other and accompany the development of a new technology by clearly defining the requirements of the automotive industry. The most important feature of Tezos is therefore its built-in “Change Management Process” through the on-chain ratification of protocol amendment proposals. As observers may have seen, the working group has already started to formalize feature requests in Tezos Agora under the prefix ENVITED which we have suggested should be a part of the 007 proposal. The ENVITED working group must be a part of the community and companies should understand that with a technology based on consensus the impact on the development is also done through social consensus and honest participation with the community is mandatory. The rationale is that the long term costs to maintain a technology are not underemphasized and the inflation-based compensation for the protocol development is an interesting way to overcome the dilemma of contribution to open source projects.


What three things are you most excited to see built on Tezos?

The integration of privacy with zero-knowledge proofs, or so-called zk-snarks, is followed with high interest since the first branch of sapling was spotted in Q4/2018. Zero knowledge proofs allow for selective privacy on business transactions to reveal them to auditors and shield them from competitors – it is the cornerstone to use public blockchains in a business context. Very important for the industry will be the Rust shell under development as multiple clients increase the resilience to bugs. In addition, it is quite hard to find development support for OCaml software among the established contractors and Rust is a little more common. Lastly, I am personally in full admiration of the code discipline and structured development of the Tezos project – I sometimes use it as a template for other projects or as an positive example but most of the time I enjoy refreshing the Gitlab activity following the daily commits.

Additional Ecosystem Updates:

We have mentioned this before, but we have continued to see scams circulating in the Tezos ecosystem. If you come across any scam or scam domain, you should immediately report it to [email protected]


What are the biggest hurdles to encourage developers? I know a lot of the community feels that there isn’t a huge “Boom” in development of the Tezos chain. I understand that it’s not an overnight process but I would love some insight on how the foundation is encouraging developers to jump in with both feet.

While the Foundation’s early focus revolved around tooling, infrastructure development, and institutional adoption, especially given the fact that Tezos as a blockchain has been gas-constrained to date, we have been encouraged by recent developments in the dapp ecosystem as development efforts shift from infrastructure and core development to end-user applications. 

We have undertaken a number of initiatives both recently and in the past to encourage development on Tezos. For example, we highlighted some of the training courses and resources available to developers of all skill levels in a prior update. As we noted, the Foundation supports a diverse mixture of introductory courses, developer trainings, and other resources to bolster the Tezos developer community.

Beyond training courses, we also recently had the Tezos + CoinList Hackathon, which had over 1,000 registrants and 30 projects submitted in a variety of categories, including DeFi, Games & Collectibles, and Oracles. The hackathon also featured 11 developer workshops hosted by teams in the Tezos ecosystem that can be accessed on YouTube. We look forward to more hackathons and other events to drive developer engagement.

We also continue to support teams that build end-user applications using this infrastructure. For example, the newly announced Magic and Beacon SDKs and the Thanos web extension make it easier to connect Tezos wallets to dapps on Tezos, Truffle makes it easier to develop, test, and deploy Tezos smart contracts, Dexter will enable decentralized asset exchange (which is a critical decentralized financial primitive), and projects like tzBTC provide the opportunity for a wide range of assets on Tezos and facilitate novel financial applications. 

Of course, we are always thinking about new and creative ways to encourage developer activity, and welcome suggestions from community members on how we can continue to do so. If you have ideas on how to expand developer engagement with the Tezos protocol, you can email them to [email protected]


What is the foundation focused on at this point? Developers, updates, partnerships, etc.?

The Foundation deploys capital in various ways to achieve all of the above and has a number of focus areas, some of which have room for improvement, and some which are progressing well. A main priority for the Tezos Foundation is to improve coordination of tech teams within the ecosystem in order to strengthen core development to end-user applications and developer UX. We will continue to invest heavily in efforts to facilitate the technical growth and development of the Tezos protocol.


What happened with the grant to Cornell LLC? 

In September 2018, we approved a grant to United Networks LLC, associated with Cornell LLC, and issued the first of six grant installments to perform research on sharding and develop tangible product solutions for Tezos. Since the outset, we have deployed funds for research projects that we feel will accelerate the development of the Tezos protocol and build stronger and more efficient infrastructure. This is a project that proposed to do just that. Unfortunately, after repeated requests and conversations with the team, they have not produced and shared with us reports or results from their research activities. We have therefore commenced measures as per our established process and stopped making any further payments.

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