Student Story: Luc Gerrits, from Tutorship to PhD!

The purpose of the tutorship program set up by the DS4H Graduate School is to give students the opportunity to confirm their interest in research and accompany them from their master's degree up to the Ph.D. The program has once again given a boost to a promising young researcher.


Motivated by the first results obtained during his two successive tutorship experiences while in his first two semesters of a master's program in Electronics and Telecommunications Systems, Luc Gerrits was offered an internship at LEAT during the summer of 2019. He completed the final internship of his master's degree the following year in the same laboratory. This gave him nearly two years of laboratory experience before he even started working on his Ph.D. in the fall of 2020!

He collaborated with Professor François Verdier and Roland Kromes (a doctoral student) on research that was published in two different articles with the IEEE, the world's largest professional organization of electrical and electronics engineers, and the organization behind a large number of standards and hundreds of scientific conferences each year.

 As a student, this was a unique opportunity to be able to sign my name to a published article. The interest shown by the IEEE for our work on blockchain was very gratifying.

What is this research about? Luc Gerrits explains the topic of his thesis:

Our daily life is increasingly filled with connected objects. Their interconnection is called the IoT. Connected devices share information between them that can be passed on to a third party that centralizes the data. This raises many questions about these third parties: How do they use the data? How do they store them? Another system emerging alongside this is blockchain. It promises to store data in a decentralized, secure and tamper-proof way. The programs that define the rules for using this data in a given situation are smart contracts. The purpose of our research is to study whether blockchain and smart contract technologies can be injected into the IoT to make information exchanges between connected objects safer and more reliable.

In theory, a well-programmed smart contract can transform any situation into computer code: if a given person, a given situation or a given condition is authenticated, the program is executed automatically and autonomously.

In practice, blockchain and smart contracts could be used in the context of an accident between connected vehicles, for instance. This is the use case studied by Professor Verdier's team in collaboration with Renault Software Labs for the Smart IoT for Mobility project funded by DS4H and the French National Research Agency (ANR).

Today, when an accident occurs, the insurance company centralizes the data from the report filled out by the protagonists. These data may be, intentionally or not, incomplete or even false. A smart contract directly embedded in a connected vehicle could retrieve the data collected by the vehicle's sensors (i.e. the identity and vital functions of the driver, the speed, position of the vehicle, etc.) and store them in a blockchain. They could then be processed in a completely decentralized, more objective, fairer and secure way. The insurance claim and the insurance company's response could be triggered automatically based on this data.

My thesis focuses on the technical aspects of this problem. Blockchain is a resource-intensive technology because of the cryptography applied to data, among other things. I am interested in the solutions to be implemented to optimize energy and network capacity consumption. But such technologies also raise questions about social acceptability and economic and legal feasibility. This multidisciplinarity allowed me to meet people with different points of view and to think about issues that I would not have considered on my own.

Indeed, the Smart IoT for Mobility project team includes IT specialists (I3S, Inria), electronics engineers (LEAT), legal experts (DL4T), economists (GREDEG), specialists in behavior (LEEN) and industrial partners (Renault and Symag, a BNP subsidiary). They hope to obtain low-power IoT architectures capable of transmitting data to blockchains and readable by non-specialists by December 2023, when ANR funding for the Smart IoT for Mobility project and Luc Gerrits' thesis are due to end.

A blockchain is similar to a database. It stores information that cannot be edited or deleted but can be publicly viewed and is cryptographically secure.

Smart Contracts are programs designed to execute a series of predefined instructions automatically, without the intervention of a third party, based on the data coming from the blockchain.

Roland Kromes, Luc Gerrits, François Verdier. Adaptation of an embedded architecture to run Hyperledger Sawtooth Application. IEEE IEMCON 2019, Oct 2019, Canada, France. pp. 7

Luc Gerrits, Roland Kromes, François Verdier. A True Decentralized Implementation Based on IoT and Blockchain: a Vehicle Accident Use Case. COINS 2020 - IEEE International Conference on Omni-layer Intelligent Systems, Aug 2020, Barcelone, Spain. pp.6