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InfoQ Homepage News Walmart Files Patent for Blockchain-Based Delivery System

Walmart Files Patent for Blockchain-Based Delivery System

On March 1st, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released a patent application by Walmart that describes a "Smart Package" system built upon blockchain technology to aid in the tracking of packages between sellers, couriers and buyers. The patent also has references to autonomous vehicle systems and IoT sensors.

The application was originally submitted on August 24th, 2017 and targets many of the uncertainties that exist today when delivering packages to customers:

Managing a packages environment when it goes from distribution or fulfillment center to the customer's home has been a challenge. Various solutions have been proposed and each of those solutions is lacking. With the emergence of autonomous vehicles serving as couriers for packages, a possible solution for cold chain management and the environment of a package exists. Additionally, the Internet of things is being incorporated into many packaging solutions. However, the existing solutions still lack the ability to track our packages at all times, including knowing who has custody of the package, what is in the package, why the package is in the state that it is in, where the package is located, and when the package will be delivered, companies would be able to more intelligently eliminate shrink with packages in the delivery cycle.

Within the filing, Walmart cites customer demand for shipping goods in a controlled environment and requiring greater security:

Many customers shop online for various reasons including ease of shopping, comfort of shopping, to save time and any number of other reasons that customers may have for shopping online. These online customers many times seek to purchase items that may require a controlled environment and further seek to have greater security in the shipping packaging that the items are shipped in. Current shipping packaging does not provide for such desired functionality.

To address these requirements, Walmart has included considerations for:

  • Monitoring the status of contents within the smart package.
  • Providing secure access to the contents of the smart package.
  • User authentication to engage with smart package.
  • Modular adapters to allow for battery replenishment and environment control through delivery vehicle systems.
  • An onboard computer system to communicate the status of contents inside smart package.
  • Delivery vehicles will deploy environment control agents and power to the smart package in an effort to protect contents inside.
  • Onboard computer systems of the smart package may also track packages as they are removed or inserted.

From a blockchain perspective, within Walmart's patent filing, they call for:

A delivery encryption system comprising a blockchain for package tracking and authentication.

More specifically, their plans include:

  • An ongoing chain hashed with key addresses along the chain of custody, including hashing with a seller private key address, a courier private key address and a buyer private key address.
  • On the blockchain, the smart package registers a product placed.
  • As the smart package moves through a supply chain, product registrations are updated on the blockchain.
  • During supply chain movements, product placements are authenticated on the blockchain.
  • As a product is placed on the blockchain, the smart package dynamically adjusts to account for the cold chain status of the product as the smart package moves through a supply chain.

This is not the first time that Walmart has explored blockchain technology. Walmart has implemented many pilot projects, including a project that attempts to reduce foodborne illness and the extent of recalls, by tracking food from farm to table.

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