UPDATED 00:02 EDT / MAY 31 2017


Walmart submits patent for blockchain-based drone delivery system

The idea of using drones to deliver consumer goods was made famous by Amazon.com Inc., but the online retail giant is not alone in that endeavor. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is one such company testing drones with an eye to delivering groceries to consumers, and it has now submitted a patent application for a system to receive such packages.

Wal-Mart’s idea is to have its drones drop packages in secure “lockers” rather than just leaving them on people’s doorsteps, presumably to ensure thieves can’t get to them first. The patent application covers several technologies, including geofencing and also a blockchain to track and identify each package that gets delivered.

Blockchain technology is exciting many industries because it has the potential to remove the middleman in many applications by shifting trust from humans to software. In this case, the blockchain would help streamline drone delivery by tracking each item they move, from the warehouse to the customer.

The patent shows how drones would carry packages and communicate with the secure lockers once they’re close enough, through geofencing or Wi-Fi. The box would then automatically unlock itself and open up ready for the goods to be dropped off, then once they’re safely delivered it would quickly lock itself back up again. For added security and precise tracking of items, the blockchain would be used to record each delivery. This would clearly benefit the delivery of sensitive or fragile goods such as food, jewelry and medicine.

“Package tracking by blockchain may include elements including but not limited to location, supply chain transition, authentication of the courier and customer, ambient temperature of the container, temperature of the product if available, acceptable thresholds for ambient temperature of the product, package contents placed in the container system (products & goods), or a combination thereof,” the patent application says.

Wal-Mart’s patent is just one example of how blockchains can be used to help logistics. In another example, last year Wal-Mart teamed up with IBM Corp. and Tsinghua University on a blockchain-based system that helps track pork supply chains in China. The system ensures that each pork shipment is digitally linked to data such as its farm of origin, batch numbers, factories, shipping details, expiration dates and storage temperatures.

Image: JanBaby/pixabay

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