Media Sourcery, Inc. of Austin, Texas announces our Cold Chain solution, built for Trust and Transparency
Though many blockchain-focused headlines lately have been more concerned with Dogecoin, enthusiastic bitcoin conferences and price fluctuations, most blockchains have real utility in improving existing processes. The recent announcement of our Cold Chain solution is one of many such examples.
For a real-world implementation such as tracking assets with temperature requirements as they move through the supply chain, multiple entities in the supply chain must be trusted. From manufacturer to air shipment company to warehouse to ground shipment company to customer, each participant in the supply chain must be blindly trusted by participants further down the chain to store and handle temperature sensitive assets correctly. Assets of this type include vaccines, foods, packaged goods, wine, large trees, COVID-19 test kits and many more.
Our Cold Chain solution removes the need for blind trust, replacing it with transparent event data collected at each step in the supply chain. That event data comes from many sources that build up trust in the system. Some of those sources are different blockchains. All event data is put onto a blockchain (in this case using the Blockchain-as-a-Service solution from our partners Topl of Houston, Texas) for full transparency — not as a hash, but the actual data.
When my team and I look at blockchains, like many other developers we see different programmable constructs that we can integrate into existing or contemplated solutions to make them better. Many of these are built to promote the concepts of trust in the data and the transparency of that data and its origin. At Media Sourcery we started following the path to trust and transparency long ago with our patent on non-repudiation — providing the ability to show without a doubt that data sent from point A was the same data that was received at point B, with all the requisite metadata wrapped around that transaction to prove it.
Some of the constructs our Cold Chain solution uses are:
- Decentralized shared public ledger
- Decentralized storage
- Blockchain identity, if the user desires
- Predictable pricing and performance
In order to trust events in the life of an asset, there must be proof of those events, and transparency in that proof. The shared public ledger of a blockchain provides an effective and provable means for data about a transaction.
One key here is to write this metadata directly to the blockchain, removing as many intermediary systems as possible. Some of the participants in our Cold Chain implementations wanted to write data to their systems first, then to the blockchain. Most of them we’ve convinced that this would lower the trust score — this is too much like traditional supply chain systems where the user would have to trust every system in the asset’s path. One example of this is the static temperature sensors used in cold chain storage. Many of these sensors write data first to their own system, then ask vendors to pull the data out of their system. To remove the intermediaries we are migrating temperature and other static sensors to utilize the Helium blockchain for IoT sensor measurements.
Each event in the life of an asset is tracked by our Cold Chain solution puts metadata about that event into transactions on the Topl blockchain. A user can simply observe the path and temperature characteristics of the asset, and, if they choose, drill down to the blockchain where those transactions were stored. Some of the metadata they can view are:
- Temperature of the asset (using our partner Varcode™’s SmartTag™ technology)
- Temperature of the cold storage units where assets are stored
- User creating the event, either manually or via scan of the asset
- Event type as selected by the user
- Links to any “evidence”
This last piece, the evidence, is called fingerprinting. Though it would be great to have “green field” supply chains that start up using our Cold Chain solution, the reality is that most supply chains are already in existence. That implies that events that might need to be recorded have already happened. For example, the initial implementation for the Cold Chain solution was tracking COVID-19 test kits that require storage below -20 degrees Celsius. The kits were shipped from Korea before our solution was in place for their supply chain. (Topl will soon be publishing a case study on this initial implementation).
To record those initial events a fingerprinted event can be added through the Cold Chain solution. The evidence, which can be a document (such as a shipping manifest or bill of materials) or an image, can be uploaded to a decentralized blockchain storage solution such as arweave, Gaia from Stacks or IPFS. The solution then takes the link to that evidence, combines it with the other event metadata, and adds it to the Topl transactional blockchain.
To see some earlier efforts at this, see this article I wrote in 2018.
Future versions of the solution will assign a higher trust score to real-time events versus fingerprinted events.
The user identity recorded by the Cold Chain solution for an event is of the authenticated user of the browser or mobile version initiating that event. The solution provides for user or corporation choice in those user identities. Support is provided for email addresses, Active Directory and other X.500 directories. Support is also provided for blockchain identities such as Stacks and Consensys uPort. Support will be provided in future versions for other decentralized IDs such as .eth addresses.
Using these types of IDs in a system that desires trust and transparency could be a double-edged sword. Many of these IDs are built to provide anonymity.
But, for the purposes of building trust, if the same user creates events at the same location many many times, thus building up a trust history with the system and other users — does it matter if that user’s ID comes from an Active Directory or a blockchain identity? The system should provide enough transparency and history for the other users to make that call.
There were several reasons why we chose to utilize the Topl blockchain and their Blockchain-as-a-Service (BasS) offering as the transactional under-pinning for the Cold Chain solution.
- Topl has an ESG focus. (where trust and transparency is not only key, it is required)
- Topl’s blockchain uses similar technology (both of our back-ends are written in Scala)
- Topl’s BaaS provides predictable pricing
Predictable pricing is not a feature of all blockchains. But for an asset-based supply chain solution, a predictable — and affordable — price point is necessary so as not to impact the price of the asset being tracked. Affordable pricing is another reason the Cold Chain solution will utilize the Helium network for pay-as-you-go predictable network pricing for temperature and other IoT devices — much more affordable than the enterprise carriers.
To ensure predictable performance our development team built a queueing layer between the users and the various blockchains. This provides a better user experience, showing the users that the transactions to the blockchain have completed or are pending on their dashboard immediately. A normal transaction for an asset may involve multiple asset events across multiple blockchains (e.g., create an asset, create a fingerprint transaction for the asset, create a time-temperature event for the asset just created, etc.). And some transactions may involve bulk scanning (as when fifty COVID-19 kits must be scanned rapidly to put them in dry ice packaging for shipment). The queuing layer ensures the users can continue working and see the status of blockchain transaction writes on their dashboard.
Tracking assets via our Cold Chain solution is already a value added service, and it provides a platform for several additional features.
- Notifications. Our team has already completed the integration between our Cold Chain solution and our rules engine ETA (Events-Triggers-Actions). This provides notifications for temperature events to interested cold chain participants.
- Inventory Turns. As assets are used or disposed, the Cold Chain solution will record each of these events. This information can be used to track and predict inventory turns. Integration with shipping notifications will provide further data for asset availability.
- Finance chain. As users build trust in the supply chain functionality of the Cold Chain solution, financial transactions can be written into smart contracts based on successful or unsuccessful transport and storage of cold chain assets.
- DAOs. DAOs are Decentralized Autonomous Organizations that provide programmatic governance of an entity. A supply chain could utilize a DAO to allow the supply chain to be run by its participants, allowing them to vote on the rules which govern the chain.
This solution is already built to support all assets: cold assets, digital assets, hard assets. If you have assets that need this level of trust and transparency, contact us at mediasourcery.com. Thanks to Joe Midura for the opportunity to write this for Austin Startups, and thanks to all who reviewed and provided feedback on this article, including Vercie Lark, my team at Media Sourcery and my gorgeous wife.