Towards an Autonomous Industry 4.0 Warehouse: A UAV and Blockchain-Based System for Inventory and Traceability Applications in Big Data-Driven Supply Chain Management

We present the design and evaluation of a UAV-based system aimed at automating inventory tasks and keeping the traceability of industrial items attached to Radio-Frequency IDentification (RFID) tags.
Authors: Tiago M. Fernández-Caramés, Oscar Blanco-Novoa, Iván Froiz-Míguez and Paula Fraga-Lamas
 
Journal: Sensors 2019, 19(10), 2394
 
Publisher: MDPI
 
Abstract
 
Industry 4.0 has paved the way for a world where smart factories will automate and upgrade many processes through the use of some of the latest emerging technologies. One of such technologies is Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which have evolved a great deal in the last years in terms of technology (e.g., control units, sensors, UAV frames) and have significantly reduced their cost. UAVs can help industry in automatable and tedious tasks, like the ones performed on a regular basis for determining the inventory and for preserving item traceability. In such tasks, especially when it comes from untrusted third parties, it is essential to determine whether the collected information is valid or true. Likewise, ensuring data trustworthiness is a key issue in order to leverage Big Data analytics to supply chain efficiency and effectiveness. In such a case, blockchain, another Industry 4.0 technology that has become very popular in other fields like finance, has the potential to provide a higher level of transparency, security, trust and efficiency in the supply chain and enable the use of smart contracts.
 
Thus, in this paper, we present the design and evaluation of a UAV-based system aimed at automating inventory tasks and keeping the traceability of industrial items attached to Radio-Frequency IDentification (RFID) tags. To confront current shortcomings, such a system is developed under a versatile, modular and scalable architecture aimed to reinforce cyber security and decentralization while fostering external audits and big data analytics. Therefore, the system uses a blockchain and a distributed ledger to store certain inventory data collected by UAVs, validate them, ensure their trustworthiness and make them available to the interested parties. In order to show the performance of the proposed system, different tests were performed in a real industrial warehouse, concluding that the system is able to obtain the inventory data really fast in comparison to traditional manual tasks, while being also able to estimate the position of the items when hovering over them thanks to their tag’s signal strength. In addition, the performance of the proposed blockchain-based architecture was evaluated in different scenarios.
 

Figure: Proposed communications architecture. (credits: Tiago M. Fernández-Caramés, Oscar Blanco-Novoa, Iván Froiz-Míguez and Paula Fraga-Lamas)

Figure: UAV used for the inventory and traceability system (credits: Tiago M. Fernández-Caramés, Oscar Blanco-Novoa, Iván Froiz-Míguez and Paula Fraga-Lamas)

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
 
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