Judgement day may be approaching, as retail giant Walmart has applied for a patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office detailing plans for a system of “in-field authenticating autonomous robots” operating under the control of a blockchain network. The patent describes a system of what will likely involve thousands robots linked through wireless communication that are capable of handling deliveries from start to finish—all while staying protected from hackers thanks to distributed ledger technology (DLT). The patent abstract reads:
“Methodologies, systems, and computer-readable media are provided for in-field authentication of autonomous electronic devices. A first mobile autonomous electronic device wirelessly communicates with a second mobile autonomous electronic device and receives a set of identification information associated with the second mobile autonomous electronic device. The first electronic device autonomously travels to a specified location and transmits a first authentication signal to the second electronic device upon arrival at the specified location. The second electronic device confirms the identity of the first electronic device based on the first authentication signal and transmits a second authentication signal to the first electronic device. Once the first electronic device has confirmed that the identity of the second electronic device corresponds to an expected identity, the first electronic device transfers the object to the second electronic device.”
Walmart has expressed interest in DLTs for several years now. Cryptojunky reports that last year the retail giant applied to patent a system that would automatically reserve locker space at package delivery hubs. Shortly after, Walmart filed a patent for a system of drones that would use a blockchain network to navigate deliveries from physical stores to customers.
Walmart’s mobile autonomous robots will work as a team, keeping in direct communication with one another as they pass along packages from one leg in the delivery journey to the next. Each robot will be equipped with a unique audio signal, an RFID code, an ultra-wideband signal, a Wi-Fi signal, a license number, a barcode, a QR code, and special visual characteristics which will allow other robots in the delivery chain to confirm the identity of the other.
Security seems to be a key issue in the proposed system, as a fleet of autonomous robots traveling the globe will no doubt wet the appetites of would be hackers. The authors of the patent explain that blockchain will likely play an important role in strengthening the system’s security:
“In some embodiments of described above, blockchain technology may be utilized to record authentication signals and identification information to facilitate or resulting from in-field authentication between autonomous electronic devices. One or more of the autonomous electronic devices described herein may comprise a node in a distributed blockchain system storing a copy of the blockchain record. Updates to the blockchain may comprise authentication signals or identification information, and one or more nodes on the system may be configured to incorporate one or more updates into blocks to add to the distributed database.”
Walmart’s developing automated delivery systems no doubt come as a response to similar operations currently underway by retail rival Amazon. As Forbes reported earlier this year, Amazon has filed a number of patents for various incarnations of delivery robots, which may wind up delivering as much of 80 percent of all purchased goods made on the company’s online store.
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