Transparent Path Applies Tracking at the Edge to Eliminate Food Waste in the Global Supply Chain

Transparent Path Applies Tracking at the Edge to Eliminate Food Waste in the Global Supply Chain

The American writer and naturalist John Burroughs once said, “Leap and the net will appear.” 

Taking chances and leaps of faith take many forms. For Transparent Path founder and CEO Eric Weaver, that leap happened on stage at a global event. 

“I had been working as an executive for a global organization. I was travelling the world, talking to customers. It was one conversation with a global chocolate producer that stuck with me. They shared that when they shipped their product worldwide, they had no way of knowing anything about it until it arrived at the retailer. If that product arrived spoiled for some reason, the customer would be angry, and the manufacturer would have to eat the cost. It struck me as a problem worth fixing. I wondered if we could take printed temperature and humidity sensors, attach them to the chocolate and upload that data into a blockchain over a cellular network, to create a single source of truth consisting of highly reliable data for what's happening to that product at any point.” 

Shortly before stepping on stage at the 2018 Global Blockchain Summit to deliver the keynote address, Eric was downsized by his employer, who then forbade him from speaking. He ignored his instructions. 

“It was my life, my destiny. So instead of heading home, I walked on stage, and began my keynote with, ‘A funny thing happened to me on the way to the airport.’  I then conveyed my story and announced the formation of Transparent Path, a company dedicated to using advanced technologies to track food. And the audience gave me a standing ovation.”

A team and a mission focused on using technology to do good in the world:

For the first seven months, Transparent Path was in classic startup mode. “We were two guys, travelling the world with a PowerPoint, chasing funding and evangelizing about blockchain. Then, in 2019, we launched our first pilot. We used IoT sensors to track a shipment of apples from my home state of Michigan across the US, storing data about their travels in a blockchain. And it worked. So our idea became a reality.“

In 2020 Eric was able to recruit and hire a dream team of executive rockstars including the former head of last mile user experience for Amazon Logistics, a former Microsoft director of product responsible for the launch of Azure and Office 365 for Microsoft, the general manager at Expedia who also worked for Pillsbury and General Mills, and the former head of Amazon supply chain. Together, the team is guided by a shared set of values to do good in the world and Transparent Path’s mission: reduce cost, waste and risk by creating a more agile, resilient, and certain supply chain. 

“Supply chains have become increasingly long and complex. A single chain of custody for perishables can extend an average of 1,500 miles and may include hundreds of people having access to food products. And anywhere at any point along the way, something can go very wrong, and no one knows until after the fact,” explains Eric. “That’s not just staggeringly costly. It is ruinous for the environment. Our planet and its food resources are not infinitely abundant, despite what we seem to believe. My team and I want to use our understanding of logistics and tech and finance to try to stop food from being wasted at the industrial scale that is being wasted right now.” 

He shares a story of a truck driver cousin who was hired to transport a shipment of King Crab from Portland to Boise. The shipment, valued at $400,000 arrived spoiled and the driver had to shoulder the blame. In time it was determined that the fault resided with the cold storage facility. They had lost paperwork and left the container of crab sitting outside at room temperature. 

The staggering magnitude of food waste in the supply chain is a problem worth solving:

“But when you think about the magnitude of this loss, it’s not just the driver’s reputation. It’s not just the loss of $400,000 of crab. It's also the payroll of the fishing crew that had to go out in the Bering Sea for six weeks, the diesel for the boat to go out there and back. It’s the employee’s wages at the crab processing facility in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. And they have to pump fresh water out of the ground out of aquifers to process the crab meat, and that uses electricity. All of that is wasted because no one knew the cold chain was broken. And that spoiled crab goes to a landfill and generates methane. So that $400,000 loss is $800,000 or more in ultimate impact.”

Eric underscores the sheer magnitude of the problem Transparent Path is solving with another astounding statistic. “According to Walmart’s former head of supply chain, the retailer currently rejects 14% of all the perishables it buys. That is $31 billion of food that is being rejected at receiving docks all over the US. And that product then goes into landfills. At a time when 38 million Americans are hungry, that scale and volume of waste is just reprehensible in our view.” 

Sophisticated tracking powered by 5G enables quick intervention at times of supply chain disruption:

Powered by 5G IoT sensors and artificial intelligence, Transparent Path’s secure, scalable platform allows manufacturers, processors, logistics partners, and retailers of perishable goods to see and act upon supply chain issues in real-time. 

“We’ve gone beyond asset tracking, data loggers, and simple point solutions to build a platform that enables and supports collaboration between shippers and their supply chain partners. Our solution, which uses a combination of hardware and software tracks not only the location and environmental conditions of a shipment (temperature, humidity, tilt, shock and light exposure), but also who has custody, when handoffs take place, and provides notifications to all stakeholders that allow them to quickly take action in the event of supply chain disruptions. As a result, our customers know immediately when something goes wrong, can act to prevent risk, and can anticipate supply chain issues before they occur.” 

Surprisingly -- or perhaps not -- Transparent Path’s customer activity is coming from the Southern Hemisphere. 

“We spent quite a bit of time pounding on doors in North America, but we live in the land of insurance — having a spoiled shipment of food end up in the landfill is not a top-of-mind concern. Whereas in Australia, for example, few companies can afford cargo insurance for exporting perishables, so nearly every load goes out uninsured. If you lose a million-dollar load of black cod due to spoilage, you’ve lost a million dollars from your bottom line. And it may be for a reason that is beyond anyone's control. It could be due to a missing piece of paper at customs in South Korea. It's those kinds of things. When we showed up in Australia, Brazil and Chile, customers said ‘Where have you been all our lives?’ So, we have finally found the right market and things are booming.”  

5G OIL Offers a Huge Step Forward:

Eric first met 5G Open Innovation Lab (5G OIL) founder and managing director Jim Brisimitzis at a gathering of edge computing experts in Seattle. That event fostered some important connections to Intel, a company that would go on to be one of the Lab’s founding partners. “Intel provided us with two years of free advice counsel weekly, gave us our first sensors and gifted us the core ‘engine’ of our software. That’s just one example of the kinds of connections our relationships the Lab has made possible for us,” says Eric. “Even if we wanted to partner with Intel, without the Lab and its connections we’d be outside staring through the glass.” 

Solving the issue of food waste in the global supply chain is a primary passion for Transparent Path’s founders, who are united in a desire to preserve more food for the hungry and eliminate food insecurity around the world. But other applications for Transparent Path’s technology also can aid humanity. The business is about to engage in its first pilot in Brazil with one of the world’s largest pharma manufacturers, where it will deploy its new ProofTracker Pro hardware, one of the most advanced trackers for logistics in the world.  Eric and the team also closed their first investment round and closed a key partnership with Sao Paulo-based consulting firm Sidera Consult, a strategic alliance that will help pave Transparent Path’s successful entry into the Brazilian market, enabling the company to navigate the regulatory and taxation challenges that come with operating in a foreign country. 

Says Eric, “Between new customers, new industries, new products and new partnerships, so far it’s going amazingly well. Along with a new hemisphere, it should make for a very exciting new year.”

Posted January 08, 2024

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