Pharmaceutical, Probiotic Supplements - How to Track Pharmaceuticals on NEM - IoT and NEM Use Case

Hello all, Bader here (ツ)

As you know, the last article I wrote was about how we could use IoT and NEM to track meat from the moment it was slaughtered to the supermarket. I will be using much of the same principes in this example, so be sure to check it out if you haven’t already.

So, this probiotic supplement just came to my door from Amazon. No, not a drink like Yalkult or Kombucha, a
pharmaceutical grade product.

Probiotics are living, breathing organisms. They need certain conditions to survive and not activate too early within the bottle.

This led me to ask: How do I know that this living product is alive? How do I know I’m getting my money’s worth?

As this came directly from the manufacturer, this is the first time I’ve seen one of these arrive packed with an actual cooling agent. Usually, they arrive in a toasty warm bubble mailer straight from the Amazon FBA, basically the worst possible conditions for this type of pharmaceutical.

Why should you care?

The entire supplement market was worth over $100 billion in 2017. Probiotic supplements are a niche in this market, but they are growing in popularity. They are projected to hit a market of $7 billion by 2025. Overall, the entire market is growing and has upwards trend. . There are many people with gastrointestinal issues that need an excess of probiotics to help rebuild their gut. In fact, there is much research that suggests that many of the diseases stems from your gut/GI tract, and is very often overlooked by medical professionals. I know this from personal experience.

The problem

A little background about these supplements: They contain probiotics, live bacteria that is amazing for your gut. As with anything alive, they can only handle so much heat before they activate and die. In the case with probiotics, it only takes some heat or humidity for them to activate. As the environment in the bottle is not suitable for the bacteria, they die out fairly quickly. Considering each small bottle can cost $30-$40, you do not want that happening.

This leads me to believe the problem is not with the manufacturer, but rather with the transition from distributor to consumer and the conditions in which it was stored.

A real-world example

Recently, however, the company Natren themselves have started a Amazon storefront. This was the box a supplement was shipped in:

This was just for ONE bottle, and this is pretty big box. This cost around $26 USD, and this is at a discount because they are just opening their Amazon store.

Originally this cost around $42 with shipping from their actual website. They pack it with “Dry Ice” (spoiler: it’s just a gel refrigerant, still great though). Interestingly enough, it says on their invoice that they have to be refrigerated at all times. As said before, this is to keep the bacteria alive.

Keep probiotics refrigerated at all times
Pharmaceutical Grade Quality Probiotics

Inside the box

In order to truly see if it was shipped under the right conditions (at least as much as I could see), I measured the temperature within the box and the actual supplement itself:

I took multiple readings, and the average temperature was 69°F, not bad, but not too great either. This means that there was perhaps some loss of organisms within the bottle, but the loss wasn’t too great. The real question, however, is how long have these been sitting in a warehouse or truck until I have received them?

For all I know, the box of bottles could’ve been sitting in a hot warehouse and not stored properly until later (though if the manufacturer took the trouble to cool the shipment, it is more likely a company like Amazon did wouldn’t have stored them properly).

A solution - using NEM & IoT

Using the same technology from the previous article, we can use a SparkFun Thing and DHT11 temperature/humidity sensor combo to monitor the temperature of the bottle.

This module communicates directly with the NEM blockchain. There are no servers in between.

Of course, it doesn’t make sense to put a tracker in every box shipped to your door, but it is possible to have one passively taking readings whilst in storage. That way when you receive it in the mail, you can scan it and check if that batch was stored in the proper conditions, thus knowing if you got your money’s worth!


The point of these articles is to outline problems in various industries. There are many applications for this type of variable tracker, not all of which involved temperature. Using this technology, we can provide a surefire way to measure any parameter of our choosing and upload it securely to a blockchain, where it is immutably stored.

I am going to call this whole operation this the CryptoConfirm Project.

And I also have a website now! If you think anything should be added to it, let me know:

As always, if you want to talk more IoT, blockchain, or anything tech feel free to contact me on Telegram @crackingcode.

If you thought I missed anything, please feel free to correct me.

Thank you for reading!


Hey, this is a fascinating application/use case, would this be doable with other things that need refrigeration like Insulin?


Yes, for sure! Basically anything that needs to be monitored for certain conditions can use this type of setup.


This is not only a great idea, but one that could create a profitable business. One major use case I see, is in pharmaceuticals, and other high value items that require climate control standards. These are packages that are often insured with valuations in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet are handled by the “regular Joes” at shipping companies.

A reusable device that costs even $100 would be peanuts in comparison to the insurance costs. And I’m sure production costs would be significantly less than that.

Another use case is in chemicals transportation. Highly reactive chemicals require the most stringent controls and monitoring.

For typical consumer items, the business could be structured in a way that the device costs are factored into item cost, with an incentive to return it.
Get the shipping companies onboard with it, and have the data included in the tracking number reference. :slight_smile: Also find a low cost impact sensor to build into it so we can finally hold the delivery man responsible!


You hit it directly on the head. It is in a sense, as you said, a type of insurance.

It’s funny, I know of huge electronic pallets (in the hundreds of thousands) that just got lost in the mail. They just weren’t able to locate it, basically a lost cause. Now, imagine if there was a GPS module attached to it. It communicates with GPS satellites, and only when it needs to it connects to a cellular network to upload some data. This way, you can actually go and see what happened, even if USPS doesn’t.

By the way, a solution is underway to track all of this without an Internet connection. Stay tuned!


In theory you could control for other factors like humidity, for instance for cigars being shipped that need to be stored at a specific level of humidity/temp, right?


Correct. Essentially, any parameter you want to measure you can attach the appropriate sensor.

Something cool down the line (that I hope to do) is modularize everything and have it all configurable through some web interface.

I’m going to focus on bringing this fully to life with NEM this week, then hopefully I can start running some tests… groceries in the back of my car, send a package with it inside etc. I’ll probably record them all in a video :slight_smile:


Awesome, sounds like great engagement content!


Planning to make a modular device then? Would be cool to be able to just clip the appropriate sensors onto a stack, then place in box.
Little color-coded lego bricks.

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That’s the dream :slight_smile:


Hey Bader. Just a note. If you put everything on the blockchain:
eg. 100,000 boxes at a time, 100txps means that if every box beeped once onto the chain every 17mins you would clog the NEM chain. That’s what IOTA is for. They also have grants btw. I know a guy in Taiwan who is doing smart bins and IOTA payed for him to get off the ground.

Perhaps you could instead have nodes where they will register on the blockchain. These nodes could have internet connection and the packages could communicate with the nodes via bluetooth or radio, whatever is cheapest. Then each package would only connect with the chain once every few hours or so. That would cut down significantly on hardware costs but you still have some of the problems from the previous post (cost effectiveness of the solution, and don’t forget the tx fee). In this system, bad actors could manipulate the temperature at the nodes but the cost of this would probably be higher and its more risky than simply refrigerating properly.

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There’s lots of solutions for this. That’s what’s so great about NEM. Could use a private chain, even a private dag, and log the info on public blockchain more efficiently. Blockchain is important in this application, IMO, as it is an immutable ledger for the information. Besides, IOTA is till too premature and vulnerable for real world applications.
I’m sure Bader has already thought this through, and we’ll just have to wait for more information on the technicals. I’d assume it will use some Catapult functions.


Sure, you’re right. About IOTA though you’d be surprised. The city hall in Taipei is currently doing testing with that start-up I was talking about. I personally wouldn’t have chose them either.

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What kind of connectivity would the devices have?

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Hey Clegg!

Good points there, you always make me think! I didn’t think of the TX per second. As you said, it would make a lot more sense to log every few hours (definitely not every few minutes). I haven’t done too much research on IOTA, so cannot say much on that. Will definitely look it up, as it lines up with this kind of application.

Fees are also something I have thought about. Going with the 100,000 boxes = 0.2 XEM per box per message, that works out to around 20,000 XEM. At today’s price, that’s around $3200-$3500 USD for the 100,000 boxes. But is that really a large amount is the grand scheme of things? If each box contained 12 bottles, each worth $35 each, that is $42 million worth of supplements.

As @leoinker, said a private network that later does a transfer with the main chain would make a ton of sense. Plus, the internet of blockchains is the future :slight_smile:

I’m not quite sure what you mean by node there. Like an intermediary server? Or each IoT device registers itself as a node? Would be great if you elaborate!

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This is something I am on the fence on. Right now, I am just using wifi (ESP8266). However, I would to implement some sort of cellular service, or even satellite internet if it is possible. I do have an SD card attached to the board, so when it’s offline, it starts unloading timestamped data on to the SD card. Later, when it gains connectivity, it uploads the latest data (really it just has to announce a transaction to the blockchain).

I need to find the best solution that takes the least power. If you have any suggestions let me know.

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Here’s a thought -
Store the package data with timestamps on device, but only loaded on private chain when scanned. Customer can track the data by paying the nem network fee to make a data request from the shipping company private chain. This way the data is kept on device until scanned, allowing for more frequent logs, as well as decreasing costs of the device. - Then only put on public chain when requested by customer. Putting the cost on the end user simplifies things and discourages over requests.

For the end user, they would enter their tracking number into the GUI, click “pay fee”, a transmission of .1 XEM (or whatever fee is) occurs, and moments later they receive the detailed package data.

Could include a “find my package” feature using GPS or radio, though that would add costs. - Another brick on the stack of sensors.
Batteries are expensive, too, and make for added security risk, as they are known to explode on occasion.


I was actually at the TAU Innovation Challenge yesterday where a whole bunch of start ups were presenting projects. One was an IOT geolocation device that combines the low power aspect of LE bluetooth with the accuracy of GPS, batteries are meant to last 5 years too.

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Feel free to email me, and I can pass on some details :slight_smile:

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I’ll send an email your way. Definitely very interested.

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