Holochain Forum

Distributed Parcel Management

I actually got inspired by mis-interpreting this topic’s title :slight_smile:

So the idea is to have a Distributed Parcel Management hApp, an open marketplace for transporting / delivering parcels. It could work like this:

  1. Alice wants to send a parcel to Bob. She packs everything up in a nice, sturdy cardboard box and slaps a QR-code sticker with a unique DHT address onto its front.

  2. She scans the QR-code and posts a delivery request to the marketplace, stating pick-up address, delivery address, desired delivery speed, value, size and weight of the parcel.
    She also defines the lowest trust-level of a prospective curier she would entrust her parcel to.

  3. Charlie coincidentally wants to travel to the parcel’s destination in an hour, so he accepts the request. He drives over to Alice and scans the QR-code on receiving the parcel. In doing so he places a deposit equal to the parcel’s value in escrow and off he goes.
    Likewise, Alice’s hApp has placed the agreed upon delivery fee in escrow.

  4. Charlie’s satnav hApp estimates an hour’s drive, so Charlie lets Bob know his arrival time. Bob however is at work and asks Charlie to deliver the parcel to his office instead.

  5. Charlie arrives at Bob’s office. Bob scans the QR-code, confirming delivery. The delivery fee gets transferred to his account and the deposit gets released. Alice gets informed of the successful delivery of the parcel.

  6. Alice gives Charlie a great rating and puts him on her favourite-list of couriers. In future, the system will give him preferential treatment when Alice sends another parcel.

  7. When Bob re-uses the cardboard box to send a parcel himself, he can simply re-use the QR-code already on the box. No need to print out a new label!

This hApp would be a huge project and could comprise several sub-hApps like:

  • Currency hApp, including escrow mechanism
  • Reputation hApp for senders and couriers
  • Location / navigation hApp to estimate delivery times / find delivery addresses
  • Parcel-Tracking hApp to manage parcel-IDs

Just imagine how cool that would be. A fully distributed parcel delivery platform with way more transparency than current systems and possibly even personal relationships between senders and couriers (making the delivery business more humane). Plus, easy reusability of packaging / labelling. :wink:

Would love to hear your thoughts! Do you think this is possible, feasible, useful?

5 Likes

Hey Jakob,

I really like this idea and think it is a perfect use-case for Holochain. However, I have a few questions:

  1. How do you envision the deposit / escrow account working over time? And what bottlenecks (e.g. access to finance) could restrict peoples’ involvement?

  2. Why would Bob use the same QR code as Alice when the original sticker references a unique DHT address?

  3. What’s your intention taking this forward?

Thanks, Kyle

Hey Kyle,

  1. I don’t really get your question there. With “escrow” I just tried to explain that both the sender (fee) as well as the courier (deposit) stake some money to minimize the chance of one of them cheating.
    For the courier, staking a lot of deposits might become a risky investment though. Say, they collect a 50 parcels with a value of 500$ each, they are transporting almost 25k worth of goods.
    I guess this system would first be used for lower value goods. And only after some couriers have established an excellent reputation people would start trusting them with particularly valuable items.
    Also, I would assume that delivery fees would increase with the value of the parcel (to account for the courier’s risk).

  2. The QR-code sticker is the cardboard box’s address. All data pertaining Alice’s delivery request will be linked to this address. Anyone scanning the QR-code can retrieve the information.
    Once the parcel has been delivered, its status in the system is being marked as completed.
    And when Bob re-uses the box, this new information too will be linked to the box’s address.
    Unless you have privacy concerns, there’s no need to generate a new address for the same cardboard box.

  3. The idea just popped into my head and I thought I’d throw it out there. No plans (or skill) to develop it further. Would love it if someone did though :wink:

Hey Jakob,

this is a really interesting idea!

Thinking momentarily of the evolution of the shipping industry, drones immediately come to mind. Tesla wants their cars to do autopilot taxi service while you’re not using it, earning you passive income – In similar fashion, this hApp could allow people to use their suitable drones for close by destinations or conveyance to the next point in the delivery chain, in addition to personal transportation. I imagine hubs would emerge both in urban and rural areas, where people have decided to be a collection/distribution point for business and profit or as a community service, if the incentives are right.

Many ways to extrapolate this idea, and maybe a help in thinking of other great uses for the tech…

Uh, interesting thoughts. From here we could go really crazy and give the parcel itself a bit more agency:

So imagine the parcel to be its own agent in the system (although data-processing and storage will be done by others in true Holo-fashion, since a cardboard box doesn’t have any processing capability).

When Alice creates the delivery-request, she transfers the fee to the parcel itself (or to its address). Likewise, the courier picking up the parcel transfers the deposit to the parcel address.

Now the parcel could be programmed to release parts of the fee for stretches of the journey, e.g. 25% from sender to hub 1 / 50% from hub 1 to hub 2 / 25% from hub 2 to recipient.
Should one courier decide to only transfer it from the sender to hub 1 and hand it over to another courier, then the second courier would pay the deposit, reimbursing the first courier. Only after being handed over to its new custodian will the parcel pay out the first 25% of the fee to the first courier.

Thus, the parcel delivery becomes its own ressource, ready to be harvested in part of full by couriers. It’ll probably be way more expensive than today’s centralized delivery services. But it would be great fun to observe what kinds of patterns could evolve…

Of course with the number of couriers increasing, so does the chance of a dishonest player handling the parcel. One of the couriers might secretly open the parcel and steal the contents.
In this scenario it might be necessary to have some type of seal, proving the pristine condition of a parcel.