American multinational retail giant Walmart seeks to patent a technology solution that will allow automated vehicles to deliver packages to restricted areas of customer premises. The patent application was filed in October 2017, and has been published by the US Patent and Trademark office (USPTO) recently.
When customers need to receive packages directly in the restricted areas of their premises, they need to explicitly trust the driver of the delivery truck, and by extension, the company that owns the delivery fleet. A technology solution that can remove the need to explicitly trust a third-party, and enables automated delivery truck to deliver the package, could help the customer in removing apprehensions around this.
Walmart believes that blockchain with its decentralized design and immutable records can help here. Blockchain is a distributed database, where every ‘node’, i.e. computer on the network, has the full information on the blockchain. This makes every node a ledger, hence the technology is also called ‘distributed ledger technology’ (DLT). There isn’t need for any central server, a hacker can’t destroy the network by taking out any central server.
Updating a blockchain goes through a rigorous consensus process. Depending on the type of blockchain, it could require majority of all participating nodes to approve a transaction before it can be recorded in the blockchain, and the approval is obtained only after a node solves a complex cryptographic puzzle, by doing massive number crunching operation at high-speed. Such rigor makes hacking blockchain economically non-viable, thus ensuring immutable record.
Walmart‘s proposed solution intends to integrate customers computing device, customer information database of Walmart, order processing server, retailer Walmart’s inventory management system, with the autonomous delivery vehicle. Within the delivery vehicle, there will be sensors, emitters, control circuits, cargo space, and data store, which will all come under the purview of the proposed technology framework. The restricted area in customer’s premise will have specific drop-off location and the necessary control unit.
In the proposed solution, blockchain will ensure authentication-based access and encryption of the data. This authentication system will allow the automated vehicle to access the restricted area of the customer premise. When the customer orders and tracks a product, she will do so via a private-and-public authentication system. The interactions by customer will be added as new blocks in the blockchain. The block will include date and time of product delivery, and the authentication key to access the product.
Walmart believes that the proposed solution will increase customer loyalty due to increased convenience, reduce cost of delivery due to automated delivery vehicle. The functionality of the proposed system could be enhanced to track and authenticate the deliverable packages.
Walmart, headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, USA, is increasingly exploring blockchain for various functions within their business, including filing patents for solutions incorporating this promising technology. For e.g.:
- They have filed a patent for a blockchain-based “Smart Package” system that will allow tracking of perishable content within a package and the surrounding environmental conditions;
- The company is now also ready to use blockchain for supply chain assurance of their live food business.