It’s essential for every business to have an efficient supply chain. This is especially the case with food and perishables, where even a small error can have huge financial consequences. Transparent Path uses the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help companies monitor and track data with ease.
We talked with Eric Weaver, CEO of Transparent Path, to learn more about how this works.
We’re a Seattle-based tech startup focused on providing real-time end-to-end visibility for high-end perishable products like fresh fish, beef, chicken, eggs, and dairy etc.
We monitor the location and environmental conditions of these products in transit and we alert the appropriate parties when we see a potential issue: location, temperature, humidity or equipment problems, for instance.
We built this platform in 2020 and rolled it out commercially this year. Our first customer, Feeding the Northwest, is part of the Feeding America network. This is a massive organization that provides food to homeless shelters and food banks all across the US and feeds about 43 million Americans every year, so it’s a great company to work with.
We started in 2018 as two guys and a PowerPoint, speaking about how cool blockchain could be when applied to food traceability. It became clear in 2020 that our first platform was an experiment, so I hired a completely new team that year to build the project from the ground up, and we started working with our first customer in 2021.
You hear on the news all the time about the one-trillion-dollar global food waste problem and this is down to a lot of reasons, primarily spoilage. The challenge is that, even in 2022, so much of the supply chain relies on paper – receipts, bills, invoices, etc.
It’s an industry which is culturally resistant to change. It’s like a 1965 Buick in Cuba – it still runs, by sheer force of will – but it probably should have been replaced 40 years ago!
When food producers and processors use devices and technologies to monitor food during shipments, it’s usually a “dumb” temperature logger. Shippers will throw one of these in the back to record the temperature, but usually they’re not connected to any kind of network, so no one knows the food is lost until long after the fact.
By using real-time sensors that are always talking to our platform, we’re moving the supply chain from the past into the present. We can tell the driver that their door isn’t sealed, or that their equipment’s broken, or tell the logistics company that their truck driver is off the primary route. We can let these companies know before their product is irretrievably damaged.
It’s currently standard practice for a driver to turn off the refrigerated container while they’re driving to save gas. They’ll take their mandatory 8-hour sleep period and forget that they’ve turned it off, and won’t remember to turn it on again until later. By the time the food gets to retail, it’s cold again and no one knows there was a potentially dangerous temperature excursion.
Then people start getting sick.
We want to make sure this never happens. We send out alerts so that whoever has the product can save it – and when the food becomes dangerous, we send that alert to everyone, so the food doesn’t end up with the consumer.
Right now, much of the problem is this complete lack of visibility in the supply chain. When a shipment is lost, food producers, retailers and shipping companies pay people, after the fact, to try to track down the details for insurance purposes. They file insurance claims, and each load lost impacts both the reputation and profitability of these companies.
Many of our customers waste so much time arguing with trucking companies about what really happened, without knowing the truth. Because of this lack of clarity, we want to make the supply chain transparent. This is why we called the company Transparent Path, so everyone can see every step of the food’s journey.
The pandemic threw up a lot of new logistical problems. It’s been a terrible blow for everyone in a million ways, but we’ve all seen on the news the problems with the supply chain, such as the ship Ever Given, which got stuck in the Suez Canal, and the closure of the I-40 Bridge in the US, a key supply chain highway. We’ve seen chassis shortages, container shortages, driver shortages, and port worker shortages.
We can’t fix any of these problems, but we can let people know what’s happening to their products in transit. This at least gives our customers some certainty.
There’s initially a lot of hype about new technologies, and later everyone forgets about them when they don’t save the world.
We began as a startup using blockchain, providing traceability for food in the event of a recall. It was exciting, sexy technology. Everybody wanted to know about blockchain. But really soon, in 2019, we realized we needed way more than blockchain and traceability to provide value.
We needed smart, always-on devices collecting data, so that we didn’t have to pay someone to do it; we needed AI to analyze the collected data and look for patterns in the supply chain, providing guidance to businesses about what might happen in the future.
For example, based on the data we’re seeing, the software might predict a driver shortage coming in November, or there may be traffic or weather-related patterns impacting your sourcing. You may have to get food from somewhere else because of probable disruptions.
5G technology is important because when we put all these devices out there on these shipments, they need 5G’s bandwidth for data transmission. These are all things we’re using right now. We’re also using blockchain with some businesses because they give people a sense of transparency and trust when it comes to data.
We’re working on three different and exciting solutions. The first thing we’re doing is working with some universities in the US to create a recyclable – and eventually compostable – electronic sensor. It’ll monitor and report the conditions and location of perishables at a far lower cost than traditional electronics.
The second thing is something we call FreshScore™. Think of it as a “credit score for freshness.” We use machine learning and predictive analytics to analyze IoT sensor data to predict the freshness of a product. Imagine you have two mangoes.
One of them’s been tracked and we can make a pretty good prediction of how fresh it is. The other mango has no score, so as a consumer, you’d probably buy the one with the freshness rating. FreshScore™ is out of the lab and we’re commercializing it right now.
Finally, the third opportunity is putting cameras and edge computing devices inside the containers to inspect shipments as they’re loaded, and watch what happens inside the containers as they’re en route. Machine language can now use cameras to count things in a picture.
We’re looking at using machine vision to count boxes or pallets as they’re loaded onto the truck, and to record what happens in transit, such as damage and things going missing in transit.
2022 should be a good year as we implement these technologies.