​Walmart's drone delivery plan includes blockchain tech

Walmart's patent application reveals plans for a drone delivery service that uses blockchain technology to ensure that packages are dropped off in secure locations.

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(Image: US Patent & Trade Office)

Walmart has submitted a patent application for a drone delivery system that focuses on how packages will be received. Instead of just delivering goods to your doorstep, drones would drop packages into secure boxes (lockers) that communicate with the drone. The application describes a smorgasbord of technology that could be used to ensure secure drop-off, including geofencing and a blockchain for package tracking and identification.

Just like most patent applications, Walmart's "Unmanned Aerial Delivery to Secure Location" is jam-packed with redundant language, ambiguous line drawings, buzz words, and ample legal jargon. Still, the basic premise is clear: a delivery system that includes a robotic vehicle that communicates with a secure locker. While many retailers and logistics providers are scrambling to patent drone delivery systems, bitcoin news site Coindesk points out that this plan stands out because it uses blockchain technology.

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We keep hearing how a blockchain -- the secure digital ledger that underpins bitcoin -- will disrupt office work and eliminate the middle man in many industries by shifting the trust from an entity to software. (See: Blockchain explained in plain English for more). In this case, Walmart proposes using blockchains to streamline operations by tracking physical items.

Drones would carry packages, and once they come close enough to the delivery box (as defined by geofencing or wireless communication), the box would automatically unlock itself and open robotically. For an added level of security and more precise tracking, blockchain technology could also be included. This could be especially helpful for sensitive or fragile shipments such as food, flowers, and medical samples.

According to the patent application:

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.

This is just one small example of how blockchains could be used for logistics. While the patent application's title and abstract describe a broader drone delivery system, blockchain technology is mentioned 21 times throughout the document.

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