Arguably the leading computer company in the world, IBM has produced the world’s smallest computer, no bigger than a grain of coarse salt. Although “nanotech” is a term usually applied to medical and other micro-machines that have motion or effects that impact upon their micro-environment, IBM’s latest offering nonetheless fits the bill.
Concurrent with the company’s announcement that it has partnered with the sea and land freight giant Maersk to develop a blockchain-based supply chain protocol, IBM’s new micro-computer is on a par with a 1990s x86 chip. While that might seem a step backward, when one considers that a microscope is needed to inspect it, it does, in fact represent a huge leap forward.
Welcome to the IBM Future
Billed as ideally geared toward tracking shipments of goods, and flagging irregular transactions, non-compliance, fraud and theft, the nano-computer can also perform essential functions like monitor and sort data, “analyze, communicate, and even act on data,” head of research at IBM, Arvind Krishna said.
Landing at a manufacturing cost of ten US cents, the mini-computer comes laden with “several hundred thousand transistors,” he said. For IBM, this is only a beginning.
Anticipating extensive application in the IoT, Krishna said that “Within the next five years, cryptographic anchors – such as ink dots or tiny computers smaller than a grain of salt, will be embedded in everyday objects and devices.” IBM micro-computers are quite literally the components that future IoT devices will incorporate in their design. A release date for the new IBM offering has yet to be determined, although in-house researchers are busy testing an initial prototype.
IBM Illustrates its Position as a Market Leader
The blockchain project collaboration between IBM and Maersk is set to just to simplify and secure, but also save the shipping industry billions of dollars off when compared to the current practices that are in place. Having launched the world’s smallest computer at their IBM Think 2018 conference on March 19, 2018, IBM’s collaboration with Maersk shows the diversity and global intent of the computing giant.
While there have been many of shipping industry initiatives to investigate blockchain’s application to the worldwide fraternity, it’s clear that the Maersk-IBM collaboration is aiming at a wholesale revolution of an industry bedeviled with more paperwork than the average municipal offices’ storeroom.
Two major European banks, ING Groep and Societe Generale, have been collaborating with trading house Mercuria in pursuit of a blockchain supply chain solution too, aimed at the international bulk commodity trade.
On February 22, 2018, it was announced that the three business partners had concluded their first ever live oil trade, employing their Easy Trading Connect system. Therein, documentation is digitized, and any previously duplicated action has been eliminated by employing a decentralized ledger construct.
In 2014, Maersk reported that a refrigerated shipment from East Africa to Europe could involve as many as 30 different stakeholders and generate over 200 mandatory communications and other interactions.
Were blockchain technology applied to the shipping industry, several thousand tons of paper would be saved daily, errors and the possibility of fraud would be eliminated and, in an industry where speed is of the essence yet slower than land, rail or sky, turnaround times could be dramatically lessened. The IBM-Maersk supply chain solution is to be offered to all industry players, such as ocean carriers, freight forwarders and global port and customs authorities.
IBM Poised to Revolutionize a Global Industry
Senior VP of Industry Platforms at IBM, Bridget van Kralingen, believes that “this new supply chain solution will be a transformative technology with the potential to completely disrupt and change the way global trade is done.”
Having worked closely with Maersk for several years, Van Kralingen confirmed that they have “long understood the challenges facing the supply chain and logistics industry and quickly recognized the opportunity for blockchain to potentially provide massive savings when used broadly across the ocean shipping industry ecosystem.”
In a pilot project involving the Netherlands custom authorities, merchandise from Schneider Electric was shipped by Maersk from Rotterdam Port to Newark. Arrivals at Rotterdam, oranges from California, flowers from Kenya and Columbian pineapples, were also included in the trial run to ensure that the digital management system was legitimate and delivered on its promise.
The Chief Digital Officer at Maersk, Ibrahim Gokcen, said that “As a global integrator of container logistics with the ambition to digitize global trade, we are excited about this cooperation and its potential to bring substantial efficiency and productivity gains to global supply chains while decreasing fraud and increasing security.”
“The projects we are doing with IBM aim at exploring a disruptive technology such as blockchain to solve real customer problems and create new innovative business models for the entire industry.”
Gokcen is also optimistic that a new protocol such as this will lower costs to consumers as well as enable emerging market players to get into the global shipping industry.
Nanotech Good for a Myriad of Blockchain Apps
The developments at IBM have those positioning themselves for the wholesale emergence of the IoT taking a good look at the implications. The cryptocurrency project VeChain has, since its launch, been a DApps-focused outfit and made much of its distinguishing features and also its future vision and role within the emerging IoT. With IBM now able to supply an essential ingredient, companies like VeChain are likely to see their ambitions pushed forward.
The new IBM-Maersk blockchain supply chain solution has been based on Hyperledger Fabric. It is expected that IBM, Maersk will be seeking global application by late 2018, once initial trials are over. The VeChain cryptocurrency started January 2018 at $2.26, rising to the month’s high of $9.55, to close out January 2018 at $5.58; it is currently trading at $3.68.