Retail giant Walmart has a plan to build an army of autonomous robots controlled and authenticated through a blockchain network.
Documents published on Thursday by the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) show that the Walmart has applied to patent a system that oversees the “in-field authenticating of autonomous robots.” The Bentonville, AR-based firm submitted the patent application in Jan. 2018.
The patent title immediately conjures up visions from the Terminator franchise, but the retail empire claims it’s not building Skynet.
Rather, Walmart says that it plans to use its legions of autonomous robots to make deliveries, presumably in a bid to compete more effectively with Amazon in a retail landscape that increasingly favors the Bezos brainchild.
The documents detail a system in which multiple robots handle the delivery of a package throughout different legs of the supply chain, using wireless signals to communicate and authenticate the identity of one another.
Such a system would be a high-value target for hackers, which is why Walmart believes that distributed ledger technology (DLT) could help secure it against potential malfeasance.
The authors explain:
“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.”
It’s not the first time Walmart has sought patents for systems that use blockchain technology to make deliveries more efficient.
Last year, the firm applied to patent a system that would use DLT to manage package delivery hubs (e.g. lockers). The system would automatically reserve locker space for packages, ensuring that orders are only delivered where there is sufficient available capacity.
About the same time, Walmart filed for a patent application that uses blockchain technology to track delivery drones as they transmit packages from physical stores to customers.