Humanitarian agencies the world over have to manage complex supply chains over huge distances under highly demanding circumstances.
They face a number of key problems:
- Establishing who has custody of goods is often a matter of guesswork and bills of lading are often sent via email, fax or even post.
- Almost all processes associated with humanitarian supply chain tracking are manually processed and prone to human error.
- Chain of custody usually breaks down after the consignee receives goods from customs in-country.
- Non-existent or destroyed communications infrastructure hampers supply chain tracking.
- Trust in this ad hoc intransparent system is low between the stakeholders.
Track & Trust seeks to increase trust by providing a blockchain-backed single source of truth for all stakeholders. The immutability and tamper resistance of the blockchain protocol enable exchange of custody from one stakeholder to another in a transparent and trusted manner. Backed by a kickstarter project from the European Space agency, Track & Trust integrates an efficient IoT protocol for transmitting geolocation, custodian transactions and GNSS metadata to a globally distributed ledger via satellite uplink. Cost reductions of an order of magnitude have been observed in similar projects and are projected here as well.
Users and their needs
There are two main user groups for the Track & Trust system.
- Non-Governmental Humanitarian Organizations
- Governmental Humanitarian Aid Organizations
Within the humanitarian supply chain there are usually five classes of stakeholders/actors all of which need tracking services.
- Humanitarian Officer (HO): Initiates an aid shipment
- Supplier (SUP): Obtains and organizes goods in shipment and hands over goods to a logistics partner.
- Logistics Partner (LP): Receives a handover of goods from the SUP and is responsible for transporting goods until handing off to the consignee at the port of entry.
- Consignee (CON): Receives the goods from the LP and contracts with the IP for last mile transport.
- Implementing Partner (IP): This actor is contracted by the CON and actually transports aid goods to people in need.
- The actors do not necessarily trust one another so a single source of blockchain-based truth needs to be established.
- The availability of installed terrestrial communications infrastructure tends to break down once the shipment reaches the CON.
- Often handovers to the IP on the ground are not tracked with current systems, let alone tracked until the actual distribution occurs.
- Even if the shipments are tracked usually the individual items in the system are not.
The system can be deployed worldwide with initial testing in a number of pilot countries determined by humanitarian agency partners dependent on their needs. Interested parties include US AID, UK AID, World Food Programme and UN Women.
Service/ system concept
The Track & Trust System includes five critical functionalities which together enable last mile tracking of humanitarian goods.
- Highly usable user interface.
- Blockchain-based transaction immutability: The system increases user trust with a transparent tamper-resilient system for recording consignment and handovers as well as geolocation data.
- Efficient satellite data uplink: Track & Trust lowers cost through an efficient use of Short Burst Data transmissions.
- LoRa-Based Mesh Network: Last mile data transmission to the satellite base station is accomplished with a low power long range radio mesh network. This low-cost self-healing network is deployed by the last mile implementing partners alongside their deliveries.
- UHF Radio Frequency ID Tags: All goods are labeled with UHF tags enabling efficient remote scanning of the actual contents of each pallet of goods. Stakeholders get full Tracking and Trust all the way from shipment initiation until end user delivery.
The system is designed to be upgraded in a modular fashion advancing from Proof of Concept to Pilot and on to Production. At each point along the journey toward production stakeholders are interviewed to guide development and ensure usability. Actual test shipments during the PoC and pilot phases demonstrates real-world utility.
Space Added Value
Initially to facilitate rapid prototyping and functional testing the system is composed of a webapp which connects to an Inmarsat geostationary communications satellite by leveraging a iSavi IsatHub. Once initial functional and user tests are passed, code refactoring is planned to highly optimize the Track & Trust Application for low bandwidth usage and transition to a Rockblock or Iridium Go! Basestation utilizing more efficient Short Burst Data transmission. Later system iterations include the addition of LoRa Modules for building the last mile data transmission chain on the ground and UHF scanners for efficient remote sensing of individual shipment components. At each stage of the process GNSS metadata are attached to shipment states and immutably recorded in a transparent blockchain.
Competing systems at best do not offer immutability and often rely solely on data intensive broadband connections not optimized for IoT. More commonly however, the competition is voice calls via satellite phone and manual counts of shipment goods. Track & Trust offer huge added value by leveraging commercially available space-based systems and combining these systems with bleeding edge blockchain and IoT technology.
Continual optimization of the system through testing and high stakeholder involvement drive Track & Trust architecture development.
Datarella GmbH has currently prototyped the Track & Trust product as a proof of concept for the blockchain based handover of shipments between the actors within the humanitarian supply chain. It is based on a private permissioned Ethereum blockchain and currently implemented as a responsive web app. A test shipment has been successfully executed with a major humanitarian organization as well as a number of other stakeholders in the humanitarian supply chain. A second test shipment is in the planning stages with a related humanitarian organization. Currently Datarella is evaluating technical requirements for a satellite linked PoC and technical feasibility for the LoRa Mesh Network and UHF tagging. Next steps include surveys and discussions with humanitarian supply chain stakeholders to clarify needs and prioritize feature integration. Additional planned modifications include connecting a satellite uplink, optimization of app data usage / offline capabilities and adding GNSS metadata features.