Imagine a world where everything you eat could be tracked from paddock to plate.
On the 12th floor of the Hilton hotel in Sydney’s CBD, they’re attempting to do just that.
It’s the headquarters of Ultimo Digital Technologies (UDT), a start up headed by entrepreneur John Baird, former CSIRO experimental scientist and the chairman of the cyber security advisory council advising the NSW government.
Alongside him are students from Sydney’s University of Technology earning up to $100 an hour as they research, design and apply blockchain technology for commercial use.
It begins with a unique microchip embedded into a product’s label or packaging.
The tamper-proof chip takes information directly from the goods via the internet to a secure location that can’t be corrupted.
UDT’s coders say their prototypes — using baby formula tins and wine bottles — will send a message back to manufacturers when the product is opened.
It tracks changes in temperature, location and even radiation levels.
The innovation could help shape the future of IoT (Internet Of Things) device communication channels and data storage globally.
“Blockchain is completely flexible it can store any sort of IOT data,” Mr Baird says.
“There’s a lot of people using blockchain for cryptocurrency, but to actually use them for the storage of IoT data — so you can get that data and store it away securely — I don’t think anyone in the world has done that yet.”
The company is funded by Chinese Australian investor Victor Huang, who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money in addition to millions raised externally.
At the Sydney headquarters, signs are in English and Mandarin.
John Baird says China is grappling with a flurry of counterfeit goods — from fake baby powder to faulty children’s vaccines.
“We’ve talked to China about using it as a way of shipping Chinese goods out of China, ensuring that what goes out of the country has the quality the manufacturer intended,” he said.
“Quite often their own goods are subject to counterfeiting on the way out.”
The company has also been approached by the government of Panama on how they can track insulin after saline was detected in supplies.
Blockchain for animal welfare
As well as protecting consumers, the technology could also improve export conditions for livestock.
UDT is working with the meat and livestock industry to track cattle from abattoir to plate, with the first shipment to be tracked from Brisbane to China in late October.
Eventually, there are plans to trace animal welfare conditions from the paddock.
“We can figure out what stress looks like for a cow, and at a later point in the journey, if we can start to see that behaviour again we know that the cow is stressed at that point, and .. something has got to be done about it,” Mr Baird says.
The Sydney Fish Markets is exploring the use of blockchain to ensure the fish bought is the same that’s delivered.
“We’ll be able to have a system where it’s photographed at the point where it’s caught that photo goes into a blockchain ledger, it can never be corrupted and then … the blockchain system will trace that journey”, said general manager Bryan Skepper.
They’re also trialling an e-nose — a device which can test the age of fish, its temperature and even predict how fresh it is.
Bryan Skepper is excited by the technology.
“This project gives us the opportunity to connect the consumer end of the supply chain to the fisherman who’s catching the fish.”
Mark Staples, senior principal researcher at CSIRO’s Data 61, says Australia is among the world leaders in blockchain technology.
“We have a number of start up companies that are pursuing technology developments and trialling the use of block chain and supply chain,” he says.
Ultimo Digital Technologies is hoping that its chips will be tracking goods around the world within the next six months.