seems to be exploring a system of “smart,” network-connected lockers that can
accept the delivery of goods. A software system would keep track of which goods
are delivered to which lockers, as well as when they are retrieved by
to see how such a system would be useful for online retailers and shoppers. It
would help solve the curse of porch pirates — criminals who steal online
deliveries that are left on customers’ porches or in other unsecured locations.
It could also help retailers like Walmart to improve delivery logistics by
tracking the availability of secure delivery stations in real time, and
potentially sharing that information with partners.
extent to which blockchain technology could factor into Walmart’s delivery
system is not entirely clear from the patent. The patent does state that in
“some embodiments” each delivery box would operate as a “node within a
blockchain network,” with “blockchain contracts” used to govern the delivery of
Walmart apparently envisions storing all of the delivery data on a “public
ledger.” It seems pretty clear, then, that the company wants to use a public
blockchain, rather than a permissioned one, as the data backbone for its
Walmart opt for a public blockchain, rather than keeping all of its delivery
data private? The reason is not spelled out in the patent application, but it
might have to do with making the delivery system transparent and compatible
with the needs of any organization that partners with Walmart in selling or
blockchain fans get too excited about Walmart’s patent application, it’s
important to note that the text makes clear that a decentralized public ledger
is not the only type of data-tracking solution that Walmart has in mind for its
delivery system. The application also says that, as an alternative to the
public ledger, a “central control circuit” could oversee the delivery network.
That sounds much more like a traditional centralized data governance system of
the type that Amazon is already using to manage secured deliveries.
might also question how thoroughly Walmart has thought out the role played by a
blockchain in the delivery system that it seeks to patent. In particular, it’s
a bit unclear why each delivery box would have to operate as a node on the
network. That requirement would mean that the blockchain itself would be hosted
on the same hardware that is used to accept smart deliveries, which seems
it be more efficient to run the blockchain nodes on conventional hardware and
limit the role of the delivery boxes to accepting deliveries? Otherwise, the
boxes would presumably need to have a considerable amount of computing power,
which might make them a bit expensive.
limited information in Walmart’s patent application makes it hard to know for
certain how exactly the blockchain would feature into the delivery system. And
it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Walmart has actual plans to build the system;
companies file patents all the time simply to prevent competitors from
implementing an idea, not because they plan to pursue the idea themselves. Still, this is a patent application to watch. It just may
give blockchain technology another major real-world enterprise use case — and
make online shopping safer at the same time.