Walmart has been looking to utilize blockchain technology to make its package delivery tracking system better and smarter, according to a patent filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Walmart has described in the application made on Thursday, a "smart package" which would encompass a device that would record information on a blockchain regarding the contents of the package, its environmental conditions, its location and etc.
Walmart has also suggested that the smart package could be used in conjunction with other emerging technologies such as "autonomous vehicles," including drones.
Walmart last year submitted a filing for a blockchain-based drone package delivery tracking system. The latest patent application submitted in August 2017 builds on this.
Walmart says in the filing that online shopping has created shipping challenges for retailers.
This is especially in regards to perishable products which need temperature control. They, therefore, necessitate further innovation.
"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." Walmart says in the filing.
The blockchain component will be encrypted into the device, the application says. It will also have "key addresses along the chain of the package's custody, including hashing with a seller private key address, a courier private key address and a buyer private key address."
Partnership with IBM
Walmart has also sought to apply blockchain technology to other areas of its business. Last year, the company formed a partnership with Kroger, Nestle and other food industry firms together with IBM to use the blockchain to improve food traceability.
It also supported a similar effort in December 2017 in China with JD.com, one of China's largest retailers and a Fortune Global 500 company. The initiative is designed to bring the necessary efficiency, transparency and authenticity to food supply chains around the world.
IBM is to provide its blockchain platform and expertise, while China’s Tsinghua University will act as a technical advisor sharing its experience in the key technologies and the China food safety ecosystem.
Track packages through drones
Walmart also seeks to patent a system which uses blockchain technology to track packages delivered by unmanned drones. The USPTO published the application in May last year.
"In some embodiments, the delivery box may also include a delivery encryption system comprising a blockchain for package tracking and authentication. 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." Walmart said in the application.
The application also explains in detail how the technology could be used to form identity within the package system. "Authentication and access may be restricted to specific blockchain keys to access the contents of a parcel's payload, and may include specific times and locations. Access to the contents may be determined at the scheduling and purchase of a delivery or products." it says.