Stuff I Want to Understand: Pedro Anderson On Future Potential Applications for Blockchain in Travel

Distribution, Stuff I Want to Understand, Technology

Welcome back to the second part of my discussion with Pedro Anderson, Founder and CEO of Winding Tree, the company that has partnered with Hahn Air. If you missed the first part, head back here to learn about the current application with Hahn Air as well as the general idea of what type of application would work. Today, we’ll talk about actual potential applications.

[Disclosure: Hahn Air paid for my travel… though I didn’t end up going]

Brett Snyder, Cranky Flier: OK. So what are the other applications that you see around the airline industry as being potentially good uses for it and not scooters?

Pedro Anderson, Founder and CEO, Winding Tree: First of all, settlement, you mentioned, is a big one definitely. And ORG.ID I think is a great start. If you have ORG.IDs, you have two sides with existing identities that can sign.

I think there could be baggage solutions with blockchain that could be exciting. I think that the end traveler identity… so Winding Tree has solved for the business identity, B2B, you know, Hahn Air and the startup as an org. But the individual identities which ORG.ID does not do — it’s very specific to organizations — is something that I think will be huge when it gets solved. And I think blockchain is the solution for it. It’s just a matter of which blockchain is gonna do it right.

We’ve looked at a few projects for identity, because it’s something exciting for us, and we were trying to find models for how to do it. There are maybe like ten different identity solutions out there, and they’re all trying to put themselves as a powerhouse in the middle. As you know, blockchain is not about making Satoshi the billionaire that controls everything. It’s about creating an ecosystem. And so that’s been the tricky part.

Like you’ll have uPort which sounds decentralized, but then you have to use their app interface access. It doesn’t work with any other app. Hmm, that sounds like a gatekeeper. Or you have Civic which is kind of not decentralized to begin with. They each have their own challenges, but I think that’s going to be huge when it get solved.

Identity is going to be a really big subject. Imagine each traveler having a unique identity they can use across all touchpoints in the journey regardless of where they came in, which interface… down to even entering a country and getting through passport control. So I think identity is going to be really fun and exciting stuff.

Cranky: But that’s not what you guys are focusing on.

Pedro: No. We’re focused on distribution for companies and then building more and more infrastructure around that facilitation so settlements, the baggage stuff… anything that’s about connectivity between companies. That’s going to be stuff that you’ll probably be seeing coming on the Winding Tree platform. And then we’ll leverage whoever else does the individual identity.

Cranky: Have you gotten involved at all like the operational side like maintenance and parts tracking and things like that?

Pedro: We haven’t, no.

Cranky: That’s a really interesting area. I mean, Southwest Airlines just last week [news broke that] they got some airplanes from some Chinese airlines that didn’t have perfect maintenance records. If you don’t have all this information set up right, that makes it really difficult to keep using the airplane. I wonder if there’s a blockchain solution for that which will help to lock in a block with every piece of maintenance work, every part, tracking everything, creating this digital trustworthy record of what’s happened.

Pedro: Somebody asked me that in the past, and I kind of looked into it a little bit, but what held me back from getting too excited about it is the fact that to me that’s more of a problem of digital vs. non-digital rather than blockchain and no blockchain. Because if the guys are doing maintenance over there and they track it into a traditional spreadsheet, even like Google Docs. You can still see the entry, but then how do you know if it’s really the person [entering it correctly]? I see it more as a problem of digital versus non.

There was a really interesting article by The New York Times about that, how IBM did a huge project with Wal-Mart. They spent millions on blockchaining their supply chain and the conclusion was “we actually we didn’t need blockchain for this.” It was just a matter of putting it on spreadsheets. It had a quote in there that I hung on to which was IBM managed to take a space that was — I don’t remember how they worded it — but it was basically that they managed to put themselves as a middleman in an area there had no middlemen. They became the source, and they were hosting the “blockchain” for Wal-Mart. So I still haven’t seen an application in supply chain that’s convincing to me from a decentralized and blockchain perspective. But I know there’s a lot of initiatives on there, and it could be something that could potentially be done. I just haven’t seen a convincing argument for how to do it.

Cranky: The thing to me that seems like the opportunity here, and this goes back to what you were talking about, there’s a trust issue. Like the Lion Air 737 MAX accident where they put a part on the airplane that wasn’t fixed right. There are issues with these kind of parts that get used because they’re cheaper…. Since that’s a trust issue, that’s why I was wondering if it might be something that blockchain would be useful for.

Pedro: It could be. I was living in Texas for years where everything’s oil, and I had a friend that was working at Exxon — he was a senior engineer there — and he was telling me how he was promoting open source in the oil space. And he actually had success with it. He got Shell, Exxon, and a few others, Chevron, they all joined to open source their factory and manufacturing facility protocols for better safety.

What that means is let’s say you have a well or you have a factory, and you have safety standards and risk and all that. They said, “hey, let’s open source it so that the BP oil spill will never happen again.” By sharing that knowledge with each other then we’re all accountable together and then we won’t have this fiasco of “no, you’re the one that signed off and said that it was safe.” And then somebody else says “no, it was those guys, those contractors.” And everybody is pointing the finger, and obviously nobody wants to take the blame for it. But if you had a trail where everybody’s keeping track of it together saying, “yeah Shell was the last one to sign off on that then we know it was Shell’s fault.”

But those guys weren’t using blockchain. They were using distributed databases which have been around since the ’80s. I think blockchain just sounds sexier. It’s cool, but distributed databases, if you Google it you can find papers from universities back in the late ’80s/early ’90s where they’re already using it. I think it is a good use case if it’s done right: what you described towards the trust end, and there is a control element as well. Who does that part belong to? Who does the responsibility belong to in case of an issue?

Cranky: Yeah, this is all fascinating. I mean you’re here in the Wild West with this stuff. There is just a lot of opportunity, and it sounds like it’s just a gold rush with people saying “maybe this will be it! Maybe this will be it!” And it sounds like you’ve get some restraint which is probably going to be good for the future of your business.

Pedro: Yeah it’s kind of like the late ’90s. Remember pets.com? That actually makes sense from a modern perspective, but it was just the wrong timing, and it was just caught up in the hype and everything. There were a ton of those. Yeah. “It’s going to allow us to do this, and it’s going to allow us to do that.” I think yes, we’re very much in that phase.

Cranky: Yeah. Right. Well, thanks for trying to shed light on this. It is one of those things I think a lot of people just swear off, because they just hear it so much and they think it’s a bunch of bull.

Pedro: I do the same. Trust me. And I’m in it all day.

Everybody fully understand blockchain and its potential uses now? Good. Remember, if you missed the first part of the discussion, you can find it here.

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2 comments on “Stuff I Want to Understand: Pedro Anderson On Future Potential Applications for Blockchain in Travel

  1. Cranky – Thanks for going in to this. It exposes the practical side of the hype of blockchain. It looks like a solution looking for a problem at this point although I do agree, there is something to the parts life cycle that would have a practical application, but how to monetize this would be the problem. Parts suppliers do not have to participate so it becomes a garbage in, garbage out scenario. Also, it has not authenticity guarantee – I can’t verify that what is recorded is actually reality, the technology doesn’t authenticate what it contains, so there are risks. This was an interesting series but I don’t see which practical application of the technology here.

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