Retail giant Walmart is seeking to patent a system that uses blockchain technology to track packages delivered by unmanned drones.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently published a patent filed by the mega-retailer for a “delivery management system” that aims to improve upon last mile shipping—the final stretch extending to consumers’ homes—by using robotics, sensors, and yes, blockchains, also often referred to as distributed ledgers.
The patent application, entitled “Unmanned aerial delivery to secure location,” describes a process by which Wal-Mart could automate the logistics of delivery drones. As outlined, the retailer is looking at blockchain tech as a way to track shipments that involve flying drones.
The patent application explains:
“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.”
Although vague on specifics the authors of the patent describe the general mechanics of a hypothetical delivery. Here’s how it works: As a drone approaches a delivery box, it authenticates itself with a “blockchain identifier,” a type of numeric or encrypted key. If the code is valid, then the box unlocks, opens, and accepts the package.
It’s a notable release from the global retailer, which has revealed some of its work with blockchain in the past. For example, in October 2016, Walmart announced that it was working with IBM to develop a supply chain solution focused on China’s pork market, the largest in the world.
Wal-Mart indicated that it was looking to apply the tech to other supply chains. And while it provided no hint that it was looking at blockchain as an underlying mechanism for aerial drones, Walmart told CoinDesk that it wanted to leverage blockchain to facilitate “fresher and faster deliveries”.
The application also details how the tech could be used to establish 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,” the authors write. “Access to the contents may be determined at the scheduling and purchase of a delivery or products.”