A ProductID-based solution for supply chain tracking and ownership management

TrackingID login page in our current prototype


Tracking specific information regarding a product can be a very difficult task considering how big and complex supply chains have become. Most of today’s supply chain still operates with paper documents and archaic processes that slow down international trade and cause a negative impact on the economy. The legitimacy of the data is trusted to the person who recorded it, leaving much to human error.

Even if this information is digitalized, each different entity has its own preferred software and forms in which the original data can be modified, shortened and even excluded of parts that they would consider unimportant. This data is forwarded down the supply chain making it very difficult to track back certain information regarding a product or a process.

The 2018 E. Coli outbreak in the United States and Canada has been associated with the consumption of romaine lettuce and ground beef. The CDC has advised consumers and food establishments to avoid the consumption of the lettuce until more information about the outbreak source becomes available. The lack of transparency regarding where the products have been and how they were handled makes it hard to find where it all went wrong. While the investigation happened, the producer suffers from the cut on sells.

The solution

Having developed a revolutionary technology for the identification and anti-counterfeiting of objects (ProductID), we can go further and create a product tracking platform that can be integrated in virtually any existing supply chain.

Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) and Identity of Things are the tools that can be implemented on the supply chain to make it more productive and transparent. By associating each product with an identifier, such as a crypto Smart Card, one can collect all the essential information regarding the product and then publish it on a distributed ledger (the IOTA Tangle in our case), so that in every step of the processit is possible to have direct access to the original data and its history. The information regarding the product’s location and status will be fetched in real time with guaranteed integrity.

By using a DLT protocol, the amount of time that it takes to track for example a food item back to its source would be reduced to seconds, as compared to days or even weeks.

Things Lab’s TrackingID uses cryptographic smart cards that can publish on the IOTA distributed ledger. Those smart cards are attached to products and batches that will be transported.

When the product is ready and out for transportation, the manufacturer will read the card using any NFC reader, including his smartphone, and will log in to its personalized manufacturer’s webpage. There, he can fill his specific form which displays whatever parameter he wants to add along with the product’s geographic location. The card will publish this information on the IOTA ledger and there it will be stored.

Each future step (transportation, wholesaler, inventory etc) will have a different form relevant to its own step when the card is read. The history of the product will keep being updated and can be accessed by all the authorized parts. When it arrives at the consumer, they can also use their own smartphone to access it.

The validity of the smart card is guaranteed by its private key that produces a digital signature. Whenever the card is read, it increases its personal internal counter that along with the private key creates a dynamic signature for each counter. This counter and signature are published on the product’s MAM channel so Tracking ID can access that data and compare the signature with its respective index.

The private key is stored on the card’s own internal secure memory, thus it cannot be copied. In case of the card being cloned, it would only possess a static signature, therefore, the index associated with that signature will be equal or lower than the last one stored on the IOTA ledger proving that the card is a copy.

How it works

  • The card is read and verified then, its dynamic URL redirects the user to Tracking ID’s webpage where the user will login on his specific stage and will visualize his own form;
  • the user fills his personalized form and publishes it on the Tangle with the product’s geographic location;
  • when the product arrives at the following step, the next user will perform the same operation. The user can only access the forms when the previous stage form has been published. For example, a wholesaler will not be able to publish anything until the transportation company has read the card and publish the form proving that the product has arrived;
  • when the product arrives at the consumer, it can scan the card using his smartphone’s NFC reader and check all the published history.

In the case of more valuable products such as wine, certain pharmaceuticals, luxury bags, etc. the Smart Card will be inserted on each individual product. However, for lower value products, a smart card would be inserted on the products batches, containing a higher quantity of products. The tracking system would work the same way for the batch but each individual product would have a QR code. Those QR codes will be linked to the batch and upon reading would show the last batch location and notify if the location where the consumer got the product is suspiciously far from the batch’s final selling venue.

Potential applications

This system can be used to track goods even in remote areas (oceans, for example) displaying also information regarding the shipment sensors. Food security can also be improved by having access to producers and transport data (where it was cultivated, the temperature and humidity during transport, etc). The pharmaceutical supply chain can be tracked so that only EMA approved drugs arrive at hospital and pharmacies guaranteeing also that none of the dangerous drugs escapes from the supply chain.

Use case example

A pharmaceutical manufacturer produces drugs of different values. One of the most expensive drugs that they produce has an important counterfeit problem. The manufacturer inserts a smart-card inside each individual package. For more common medications, the card is inserted on a batch of packages, which each possess a QR code associated with the batch’s card.

The manufacturer initializes the card and publishes the data to the tangle. The drugs will be transported and each time the distributor goes through customs he will update the tracking history of the cargo.

A wholesaler that is waiting for the pharmaceuticals logs on its webpage and checks the last published location. When the cargo arrives, first the wholesaler checks the validity of the medication by reading the cards and verifying that they are the actual cards that have been updating the channel. He then fills his form and sends the products to its selling points.

A medications batch is then sent to the pharmacy where all its history is again checked and updated. The consumer uses its own smartphone NFC reader to verify the single drug smart-card and with the QR code, it can see all the history of the batch that the box was part of, until the pharmacy. The only way for falsification to occur would be from the part of the pharmacy. All of this data was fetched from the IOTA ledger by the Tracking ID’s front-end and kept available in a single webpage.

Other entities can benefit from the process, even if they are not directly involved in the supply chain: in our example it would be invaluable for a health insurance provider to have access to the recorded data, in order to receive additional information about everything that happened (where the drug was, which drug the consumer bough and where, and then consumed) to discourage and filter out fake claims.