Ethership - Distributed Package Delivery Network

FlynFlyn Member Posts: 8
edited February 2014 in Projects
This is a general discussion about Ethership, an envisioned distributed package delivery (courier) network.


  • FlynFlyn Member Posts: 8
    I'll kick this off with a quote from the Ethereum & Logistics discussion ( from the General Project Discussion category:

    "BearkatBoy, I've been mulling over the idea of a distributed courier network. Such a DAC would benefit from network effect. Each origin or destination node added to the network would increase its utility to all stakeholders. This characteristic could help the DAC grow. Another feature could be the use of underutilized capacity in vehicles that already travel between two points. For example, transporting packages in the otherwise empty trunks of a cars that commute between two points on a frequent basis. This could support low transport costs and possibly rapid delivery. Here's what I envision (keep in mind that this is rough, not refined):

    A distributed courier network that would...
    1. facilitate the delivery of packages from origins to destinations.
    2. use underutilized capacity in vehicles traveling between two points to transport packages.
    3. consist of a network of independently owned nodes that serve as points of origin and destination.
    4. use cryptocurrency (Ether?) for very inexpensive transactions.
    5. use cryptocurrency for transporter security deposits that discourage theft.
    5. use something like 4-way smart contracts between senders, origin nodes, transporters, intermediate nodes, and destination nodes to incentivize each participant to do its part.

    Each sender would...
    1. deposit the package in a locker at a local (origin) node.
    2. use a web application (or mobile device application) to arrange the delivery of the package from the origin node to the destination node.
    3. use a web application to pay the delivery fee (which will compensate the origin node, transporter(s), intermediate node(s), and destination node for their services).

    Each transporter would..
    1. use a web application to post the availability of capacity in a vehicle traveling between two nodes (origin and destination).
    2. use a web application to be notified of packages available to be transported.
    3. pick up packages at origin node.
    4. make security deposits using cryptocurrency for each package under the transporter's care.
    5. deliver the packages to the destination node.
    6. receive back security deposits when the packages are confirmed to be delivered successfully.
    7. collect a fee from each sender for the successful delivery of their respective packages.

    Each node would...
    1. consist of one or more lockers and a networked computer.
    2. control access to the lockers via the networked computer.
    3. interface with senders, transporters, and other nodes via a web application and Ethereum.
    4. calculate the sequences of nodes packages must traverse to get to the destination node.
    5. instantiate the 4-way smart contract between sender, originating node, transporter, and next node in the sequence.
    6. confirm receipt of packages from transporters, which will enable the release of security deposits back to the transporters as well as payment of delivery fees.
    7. store packages securely in lockers between drop-off and pick-up.
    8. collect fees from the senders for services rendered.

    ... I'll work on some sort of infographic/visual aid to help convey the concept. In the mean time, what are your thoughts?"
  • FlynFlyn Member Posts: 8
    To recap the Ethereum & Logistics discussion...

    @giannidalerta introduced bonding as an alternative to security deposits as a method to ensure that transporters deliver the packages as promised (and don't steal or otherwise fail to deliver them). Three advantages were identified...

    Bonding could...
    1. simplify the process of screening transporters capable of delivering a package worth a certain declared value.
    2. make the participation easier for transporters, as they wouldn't have to manage operating capital as actively if individual security deposits for each package handled were not required.
    3. reduce the number of transactions managed by the package delivery DAC and help offload some of the financial risk onto independent escrow service providers, by enabling the outsourcing of responsibility to maintain the transporters' bonded values in escrow.

    @giannidalerta also brought up individual Package IDs/smartskus. These could facilitate the incorporation of the packages into the envisioned delivery system. They would enable tracking, delivery confirmation, linking into smart contracts, etc.
  • w0bb1yBit5w0bb1yBit5 Member Posts: 17
    edited March 2014
    @giannidalerta I am interested in the concept of "bonding" as it applies to Ethership. Who is the surety provider? How are they to be rated? How does a shipper or consignee collect from a bondsman when the carrier fails in her duty? How does this improve upon an escrowed security deposit by the carrier? Also, has the Ethership discussion moved to the underwriting of transportation insurance? I believe that marine insurance is one of the oldest and most venerable branches of risk management. For the good reason that the risks are sufficient and variable enough to be beyond the capacity of many suppliers and purchasers. Finally, is this discussion taking place elsewhere beyond this ethereum formum, or is this ground zero?

    @Flyn how are the visuals and whitepaper coming?
  • giannidalertagiannidalerta Miami, FLMember Posts: 76 ✭✭✭
    @w0bb1yBit5? My interest is on the SKU'ing ideas. I brought up the Bonding from an article I read and your other questions are not in my repertoire of expertise. I have not found discussion of this else where but like most things... i bet there is a conversation going on somewhere.
  • FlynFlyn Member Posts: 8
    edited March 2014
    @w0bb1yBit5 Your questions about surety bonds are good ones. At this point the idea of using a surety bond (or smart contract equivalent) to guarantee a carrier's (transporter's) performance isn't well defined, and perhaps my terminology isn't correct...

    What I envision would be like a standing escrow account that holds a security deposit for the carrier… The escrow account would not be tied directly to any specific transaction, but would instead be used as collateral for the packages in the carrier’s possession between the time when the packages are picked up and when they are confirmed delivered. The sum of the declared values of packages transported by the carrier at any given time would not exceed the value held in this escrow account. By some yet-to-be-determined method, a smart contract would guarantee senders reimbursement from this escrow account for the value of any packages undelivered/lost/destroyed by the carrier. I suspect that escrow will be pursued/developed independently of this project, so perhaps there would be a way for the envisioned Ethership DAC to use escrow service(s)/accounts that are not directly managed by the DAC.

    If by chance, something more similar to a surety bond is developed by a 3rd party, perhaps it could serve as a substitute for what I described above (or per package security deposits). With a distributed reputation system, some sort of customer rating feedback system (like on Ebay), or a performance history heuristic ([(packages delivered on time)/(packages picked up)] ratio) there would be data to help estimate the likelihood of a payout for a given carrier. It sounds like this would be a very challenging, interesting, and maybe lucrative project on its own :)

    I envision the Ethership project being focused on getting packages from point A to point B, not so much being about insurance-like financial instruments. With that said, finding creative ways to incentivize performance would be critical to making it work.

    This is "ground zero" for Ethership (for the time being). I went ahead and nabbed, but I don't see any reason to move the conversation away from this forum right now. A white paper seems a bit formal and inflexible at this point, but I'm working on a sort of concept explanation + use case presentation, and I'll have something to share soon.
  • w0bb1yBit5w0bb1yBit5 Member Posts: 17
    Okay. I was just wondering, cuz in the brave new world of smart contracts and no trust there isn't necessarily a bonding authority that can either hold your cash against claimants or do a credit check and deem you worth more than your forum nym. If there were a bit of a handy-dandy ethereum contract script that made escrowing some BitCoin easy, and payout to the injured party certain, then it could be that atomic deposits against an individual shipment's risk would be frictionless and optimal.

    I certainly look forward to your show and tell, coming soon.
  • FlynFlyn Member Posts: 8
    edited March 2014
    @w0bb1yBit5 You make a good point about the benefit of per package, atomic security deposits... Without the need to divvy-up and distribute individual funds from a larger general security deposit account (in the case of failed deliveries), there wouldn't be a need for an independent 3rd party to manage these transactions (even if that 3rd party were to be automated somehow).

    To foreshadow: Ethership could work much like the Network Layer of the Internet Protocol Suite (Stack), with a package moving through a series of smartlockers (nodes) from origin to destination much like a digital packet moves through a series of routers.
  • agorabitsagorabits Yubia Permanent Autonomous ZoneMember Posts: 3
    Flyn, I am so glad I found this.

    Several weeks ago, I came up with a similar idea, albeit at a more consumer level scale: a web + mobile app that allows rural (or even urban residents) find a driver who is already in town (near the stores) and get them to pick up item/s on request and deliver them, either straight to the customer's door or a central drop off point. The concept also included bonding, payment with crypto and/or PayPal, driver and buyer profiles/ratings, etc. Folks in these parts of the woods have been longing for such a service -- many hate to have to travel 15+ miles to the store just to pick a couple of things up. The problem up until now was the way in creating the mechanisms by which orders could be placed, dispatched, and paid for. Ethereum could now make all this quite possible. Problem is, I'm not a programmer -- but I'm certainly interested in working on such a project in my capacity as a 'big picture' idea guy, web designer, and online marketer.

    My outline for this is on my other machine, so I'll pull it up and repost it here shortly.

  • agorabitsagorabits Yubia Permanent Autonomous ZoneMember Posts: 3
    OK, here's the outline I drafted a few weeks ago. Much of the functionality is similar to what you initially proposed Flyn, but with more bells and whistles...

    Please let me know your thoughts.

    CONCEPT: A FLOSS personal shopper/courier application that allows customers to order and pay for locally-available products via web or phone and have a runner purchase those products locally and deliver them to the customer same day. Think WebVan + Lyft/Uber.

    - Customer side of app shows map of available runners and current status (avail, shopping, on break) & local stores, choose available runner > shows what area/stores they cover & purchase limit > select runner, clicking on store brings up order menu > pick items > send > repeat, save shopping lists for re-use, directory of local runner profiles and reputation, order summary, delivery time estimate, rate runner, tip runner
    - Runner end app shows current open customer requests (accept/reject/review profile), notifies of instant payments, shows map with store locations + suggested route planner, aggregates orders into list, set availability status (not/available, shopping, on break), estimate delivery time, rate customer
    - Both runner and customer are asked to rate the transaction upon completion, results appear in customer and runner profiles
    - Supported local stores displayed according to customer location and/or driver preferences/availability/location
    - Customers can add products to a list of commonly shopped stores
    - Shopper & Customer reputation ratings
    - Runner can accept/reject orders based on customer rating, personal cash account balance, what else???
    - Runner can set max $ purchase limits per customer, issue credit to select customers (see
    - Preferred payment options can be set by runner: Cash, Check, Credit/Debit/PayPal IPN, Bitcoin
    - GPS/map shows runner location/availability
    - QR code delivery confirmation unlocks payment to runner
    - Surge pricing for early AM, late PM, weekend, holidays and limited number of runners (this may encourage other runners to come on duty if current surge price can be broadcast).
    - Runners are free-lancers/self-employed/self-insured
    - Customers and runners post a personal "bond" of $100 to multisig "escrow" (Bitcoin only?), established as a fee upon OAuth-based sign-up process. Payment refunded to customer if delivery not made same day, runner holds the goods as penalty for no-show.

    Two Editions:

    Community Edition = Free/Libre OpenSource Software Project

    Audience: Small, rural, isolated communities. Can be used for farmers market, supermarket, Costco/Walmart runs, etc.

    Limits: Max of 5 shoppers, Delivery to central pick-up points only, No surge pricing, No bond escrow

    Runners/shoppers earn fee for service (percentage?). Deliver products to central pick up point or to user's home/business for an extra fee. Runners can sell their excess bitcoins to customers when deliveries are made (i.e. token system) at or above market price (their call).

    Metro Edition = Licensed Software

    More features than Community Edition: Max of 50 shoppers, Front door delivery option, Runners can set max delivery area radius, Surge pricing (based on bad weather, evenings/weekends/holidays, runner availability, etc.)

    Allow store staff to pre-package orders for payment & pick-up by runner? Might be hard to arrange/get stores to agree or see value in doing this.

    This edition would be geared to entrepreneurs who would wish to set up a more centralized type service busines, offering customer support, using advertising to promote the service, pre-screening and approving runners, quality control, etc.

    No exclusive territories. Businesses using the licensed edition would have to compete with others in their area (if any).

  • kylinkylin Member Posts: 10
    Very good idea, I am very interested in joining.
  • GloginGlogin Member Posts: 1
    edited March 2014
    Even though I'm not very business savy, this definitely seems like something that could be used in conjunction with services like Amazon FBA. I also think using drones to deliver packages within this system may be something worth trying out whenever they become street legal as long as they're not too noisy.
  • giannidalertagiannidalerta Miami, FLMember Posts: 76 ✭✭✭
    I would suggest we move the spec into a google doc and or git rep so we can standardize a full on project brief. I believe Ethereum will be accelerating some ideas and having the brief will get everyone involved one step closer.

    I would like to contribute my design/marketing experience to the project. Please let me know how I can be of help.
  • niluxnilux Member Posts: 3
    edited May 2015
    Piggybaggy is an existing app / community for distributed transport. I'm not aware of any others, but trying it out would reveal a lot about the economics and dynamics of the idea...
  • gauvrobgauvrob Member Posts: 1
    I'm an 18 year 3PL veteran in logistics. The potential for this tech is incredible. Problem for me is No coding experience. My vision is to create an ecosystem for shippers and carriers that use blockchain technology to settle payments instantly while protecting both parties. Benefits are too many to list...but initial question...$ forgive me for my ignorance...Can the transaction run through the blockchain and get settled in USD? After developed incorporate a drop down menu that gives the shipper freedom to choose their currency.
  • TheKevinBTheKevinB Member Posts: 1
    @gaurob Banks are already making plans to issue fait on Ethereum. Exchanges with major currencies will be smart contracts. Get paid in anything valid; switch it to what you want to store it as at the end of the day/week.
  • gxugxu Member Posts: 18
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