Blockchain is often touted as the perfect solution for creating decentralized infrastructures and building a trustless platform for businesses. Some have gone as far as predicting that this emerging technology will thrust humanity into a new industrial revolution due to the new models and innovative concepts that it offers industrial sectors like banking and finance, supply chain and logistics, transportation, shared economy, and the automotive industry. Right now, all bets are on the blockchain.
Not wanting to fall behind with innovative breakthroughs, Walmart has been piloting blockchain initiatives to become one of the latest corporations to flex its innovation muscles in the blockchain arena. The retail giant has recently claimed a patent that seeks to leverage blockchain technology to transform the supply chain by creating a system of automated delivery vehicles.
Walmart envisions a future where it will make package deliveries via self-driving cars or trucks connected to the blockchain, and this patent will serve as the first step in this direction. The patent was filled back in October last year but was published on May 10, 2018. Walmart blockchain patent describes a system that utilizes technology tools to secure “restricted access areas” around the client’s home. These specially designated areas will serve as delivery locations to receive packages from Walmart’s autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs).
With this system, Walmart aims to combine two groundbreaking technologies; blockchain and artificial intelligence in the form of self-driving vehicles. The “technology tools” used to secure the “restricted access areas” are not fully described in the patent. However, Walmart has hinted that the blockchain is the tool they will use. They describe it as “authentication-based access and encryption” solution that will allow the AGVs to access these restricted areas. Furthermore, Walmart blockchain based networks could also serve as a medium for validating and tracking the deliverables.
In describing the potential use of blockchain in this patent, Walmart says that:
“When a customer interacts with a product, the customer is permitted to do so via a private or public authentication key. In response, new blocks may be added to subsequent root blocks, which will contain information relating to the date and time a product delivered by the AGV was accessed, as well as the authentication key that accessed the product.”
Walmart blockchain patent should allow the company to provide enhanced security compared to traditional method of delivering goods. However, this isn’t the only business process improvement that Walmart is after; the company has stated that this new automated delivery service will help improve the convenience of doing business which in turn will foster customer loyalty. Walmart also sees the fully automated system as a way to cut down costs since they won’t need as many delivery drivers once the AGV system is implemented.
Walmart’s interest in blockchain based systems has been growing steadily. In March, a Walmart patent was published which proposes a solution to tackle shipping issues associated with perishable items. This solution will utilize what the company calls “smart packages” to create a smart courier system that will record data about a package on the blockchain; this information could include environmental conditions, location, and other data points. Walmart also intends this system to work in harmony with automated vehicles and drones. Walmart have also been working with IBM to track food in its supply chain using blockchain.
Many have argued that automated systems like Walmart’s proposed patent will only increase the rate of unemployment and cause people to lose jobs since companies adopting these new technologies will require fewer workers. However, these protests haven’t gained much momentum because the benefits of adopting these technologies far outweigh the downsides.