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Blockchain and package tracking: a win-win situation!

Nowadays many people buy – sometimes or more frequent – articles online. Waiting for a package to be delivered however could be frustrating. These are delivered via postal services and/or courier companies at home. But these deliveries mostly happen during work hours, or when you do your shopping,  or when you are somewhere else. So not being able to accept the package! In that case the package will be delivered at your neighbours. Or you get a small letter where is said when the courier will come back, or the shop you can pick it up. There is however a solution to this problem: blockchain,

Present practise
Door-to-door deliveries of packages from abroad by postal services or courier companies are difficult to perform and may heavily add to the cost of delivery, which ultimately drives up prices for consumers. All of these companies use their own fragmented system. All of these fragmented internal systems – which are centralized in their own way – work well within the country the shipment is coming from. Yet communication between postal services and courier companies around the world is pretty much non-existent (unless you use more expensive options!!). This creates a problem for the customer who wants to get up-to-date information about a shipment.  


What may blockchain  bring?
Given its characteristics of being decentralised, transparent, efficient, cost saving, secure etc. blockchain can solve a number of the existing problems for postal services and courier companies.  There are a number of interesting use cases identified outside financial transactions such as  identity verification, logistics and keeping track of mail/parcels.

  • Identity verification

First of all it could help postal services and courier companies help identify identities on blockchain. Corporates already do this, since they deliver your mail to you and not to someone else. But by connecting to a blockchain, the postal services and courier companies could help you manage your offline identity as well as your digital one by storing it on an immutable ledger.

Identity verification through using blockchain technology could ease transparent and safe transactions for both postal services and courier companies. Identities could be verified by the postal service in-person by means of identification card such as driver’s licence or biometric Id. The verified virtual Identity will be further linked by the postal service to work within the blockchain system with customer’s mailing address. The user could then use these identities to sign into secure websites or taking part in smart contracts.

  • Logistics: managing devices

Blockchain could also help the postal service’s logistics management.  As more number of devices purchase online, blockchain’s decentralised verification and control system may also  enable devices to safely secure and transfer data. Device management using blockchain could increase the ability of devices to deal with information they collect and minimise the maintenance costs of controlling the overall system and increase its efficiency.

IBM is exploring using blockchain to more accurately track and share information, and even transact between IoT (Internet of Things) devices. Postal vehicles and sorting equipment could thereby manage their own tracking, monitoring, and maintenance. While databases can do this now, it’s still a manual and human-intensive process. Blockchain could help all of this happen automatically, making it faster and cheaper.

  • Keeping track of mail/package

Blockchain can be used to help the postal services and couriers companies identify packages and mail in the same way individuals can be identified. If each parcel had a small sensor, blockchains could be used to manage the chain of custody between different partners. Tracking parcels on a blockchain would also expedite customs clearance and integrate payments, logistics, and shipping into one cohesive platform.


Postal services show their interest
A number of postal services such as the US federal post agency, Russian Post, and, Australia State post have shown their interest towards the blockchain technology. Their  interest not just restricts to package tracking but also towards other possible applications.

  • Unites States Postal Service (USPS)

Last year the United States Postal Service (USPS) released a report “Blockchain Technology: Possibilities for the U.S. Postal Service”, outlining a number of ways it could use a public blockchain to improve efficiency and save money. Issued by the internal Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the report suggested that USPS should consider using blockchain technology for identity purposes, supply chains, device networks, and possibly even a cryptocurrency to be issued for purchasing postage with.

The U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Homeland Security are now researching the potential for blockchains to establish secure identity management. The US federal postal agency also wants to integrate blockchain to create its own cryptocurrency platform Postcoin. Another prove of their interest in blockchain technology is the announcement by the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the law enforcement arm of the US Postal Service, that they have listed a job opening something called an “Intelligence Gathering Specialist.” Candidates must understand bitcoin, darknet markets and how to analyse the information stored on a blockchain.

  • Canada Post could provide blockchain service

Canada Post’s role could be expanded by building a national social network or provide critical digital communications infrastructure to rural Canadians, according to a new parliamentary report “The Way Forward for Canada Post”.

“Canada Post could play a pivotal role in providing the basis for a Canadian social network – authentication service, email and block chain authority for the benefit of Canadians.” Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, chaired by Tom Lukiwski.

The recommendations in this report are two of many suggested. Other recommendations include maintaining it as a public service that operates on a self-sustaining financial basis, or concentrating efforts on protecting its core mandate to provide letter and parcel delivery services in an innovative manner.

  • Australia’s Postal Service Reveals blockchain Use-Cases           

While the Australian Postal Service  is considering a number of blockchain applications, they have begun prototyping in the area of identity, records and electronic voting. They are looking into developing blockchain platforms to ease into the global acceleration of digital identity services. This platform should help digitize the physical process of verifying people identity, “since the current process requires a lot of paper”.

Australia Post is looking at this to store digital identities in the hope that it will transform its service provision. Australia Post does believe the blockchain protocol can advance the citizens control over their digital identity. A two-key architecture could give citizens access to their encrypted data, while government services hold the other key.

“When we think about the blockchain, we don’t want to take people’s private information and put it on a public ledger because that would very quickly become a honey pot for scammers and hackers, and even if that data was encrypted that’s probably not a good idea”. Rick Wingfield, Australia Post Accelerator

But it's not just identity services Australia Post is looking at innovating. The company is also experimenting using drones to deliver parcels.


Experimenting package tracking with blockchain
Applying blockchain to the logistics industry has opened up a world of possibilities for the technology. Some players are now experimenting with blockchain technology for parcel tracking. All it takes is building a platform on top of blockchain to accomplish real-time worldwide parcel tracking, regardless of which courier or postal services have been used.

  • Singapore government creates nationwide system of delivery lockers using blockchain

To make online shopping more convenient, the Singaporean government created a nationwide system of delivery lockers from which the public can retrieve packages ordered online. Thereby they use a blockchain solution developed by FreshTurf, a technology company in Singapore.

The blockchain solution is designed to manage transactions between merchants, logistic vendors, locker companies and consumers. To create the solution, FreshTurf teamed up with IBM Bluemix Garage developers and designers to build a blockchain-distributed ledger platform prototype on the IBM Bluemix cloud platform.

“We’re creating a marketplace where delivery points such as apartment complexes can provide locker space and anyone can rent them.” “This means greater island-wide access to lockers and better utilization of lockers for the delivery point providers. Consumers have more choices and logistics companies can utilize these assets to simplify the ‘last mile’ of delivery.” Kevin Lim, co-founder and director FreshTurf.

  • Walmart uses delivery drones with blockchain technology

Another interesting project comes from the US where retail giant Walmart is seeking to patent a system that uses blockchain technology to track packages delivered by unmanned drones. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published the application, titled "Unmanned Aerial Delivery to Secure Location", on 25th May.

"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." USPTO

Walmart wanted to leverage blockchain to facilitate "fresher and faster deliveries". The company is looking at blockchain tech as a way to track shipments that involve flying drones. 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.

  • Russian postal service to track parcels via blockchain

Russian Post is also experimenting with blockchain. Russian Post announced the integration of the blockchain technology into its service of parcel tracking. Doing this, the company hopes to restore the trust of the clients. “One of the first traditional services that will undergo modernization is parcel delivery that is still used as “a means of transportation for goods bought remotely”. “Blockchain’s integration into the service will provide more transparency in Post’s activity and will help to regain their clients’ trust.” Shishkov, Russian Post

Both worlds will benefit: win-win situation                 
Using blockchain for package tracking could be a win-win situation for both customers and postal services an couriers companies. From a customer perspective, using blockchain technology for parcel tracking would be a major step forward. Not only can anyone check a package status at any given time, but it would also be done in a very transparent manner. All events can be timestamped, and notes can be added regarding potential import fees for example. For the couriers and postal services around the world, blockchain technology would also mean they don’t have to invest in keeping up their own tracking database either. As a result, overhead costs will be cut down, and more focus can be put on making the shipping process more streamlined, and perhaps even how it can be made faster.


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