Internet of Related Things IORT

The topic,Internet of Things(IOT) is quite popular today. There is a lot of discussion about IP enabled devices, API’s, storage, and other ideas that address the “How” of IOT. Having spent a good many years developing software this process is one I have seen over and over. A customer wants A and immediately everyone starts to suggest ways to implement A. Rarely does anyone ask “why A?”, what is the problem being solved here?

As I see it the idea behind IOT is that there are “things” in the world that we’d like to track and in order to do so they to be internet enabled. Of course some things have to be internet enabled but not all things. I spent a number of years working with RFID in both access control and asset tracking. It is not simple to track things based simply on location, typically there needs to be some additional context. This helps the system or user make more informed decision about an item’s real location. Location could be by RFID, BlueTooth, barcode, WiFi, or logged manually by a person(car is parked in the Donald Duck lot, isle 134, row 654). Context let the user or system make sense of the location. Is the item really in the paint shop or the radio shop? If the item is electronic, a radio, then is not likely in the paint shop.

When designing a system it is worth considering how people perform a similar activity. In this case the context of knowing what the item is may not help. An item such as car keys could be anywhere. knowing more about the item doesn’t really help. How do I find the car keys? One way is to wander around the house, look in the car, or check various coat pockets. More likely I will ask someone. That someone may not know but they may know someone who does. I might start by asking my daughter. If she doesn’t know she could suggest asking mom since they went to the store in my car recently. I’ll call my wife and she will tell me they are in the in the junk drawer on the counter in the kitchen.
Another scenario, tracking a package. If I inquire about a package I am expecting, the delivery service doesn’t know where the box is. They only know where it is in relation to other things,such as a truck, warehouse or plane. The service will likely know where the truck or driver is currently at or the most recent location. They can tell that my package is on a truck that is in Portland Maine. Its is 5:00pm and I am in Orono Maine, 3 hrs away and so not likely to see my package until tomorrow. The idea is that people manage things not by absolute location but through relationships. The package is related to the truck that has a known location. The car keys are in the junk drawer in the kitchen, I know where to look.

The process can best be described with a graph. Finding a thing involves finding a path between nodes, the car keys and me. Its about how nodes(Things) are related to each other. Below is a diagram of how relations might be described.

Relations are defined as we naturally see them. A Family is made up of persons, not rooms or items.

Relationships are further defined using graph terms, vertices or nodes together with edges or links. I am going to use a graph database and therefore I have assigned properties to the edges. They are not needed for what I am trying to do right now, they may be useful if ever the need to define more specific paths, or ignore some paths.

Test the idea

To try this idea I am using Neo4j( graph database along with Python( The basic process is to create nodes and then connect them by defining Edges(Relationships).

One aspect of Neo4j that I am not settled on is the ability to define “relationships” as needed. Its useful to the developer but to a user there is no way for them to know what relationships are used and how. Something like RDF triples maybe?

For this test there are three relationships. For the most part I use “CONTAINS”.

  1. A person “BELONGTO” a family
  2. A person “LIVESIN” a house
  3. A house “CONTAINS” a room.


iort diag


Create nodes and edges

Use Python and py2neo to create nodes and then the relationship between them.

open a connection to the running service
graph = Graph()

create a node for the Family
family = Node(“Family”, name=”Family”, title=”Smith”)
graph.create(family )

create a node for the House
house = Node(“House”, name=”House”, title=”Smith Family House”)

create a Location node
kitchen =Node(“Location”, name=”Room”, title=”Kitchen”)

create an Item node
oven =Node(“Item”, name=”Appliance”, title=”Oven”)

Finally,create a person node
dad = Node(“Person”, name=”Person”, title=”Dad”)

Relate the nodes

iort diag rel1

iort diag rel2

An Example of creating the relationships.
graph.create(Relationship(dad, “BELONGTO”, family))
graph.create(Relationship(house, “CONTAINS”, kitchen))
graph.create(Relationship(kitchen, “CONTAINS”, oven))

The graph


Where are my keys?

Finally its time to find the car keys.
What I really want is the path from me(Dad in this example) to the keys. Neo4j can find the shortest path between two nodes fairly easily.

Using Cypher from the database browser I executed this MATCH query:

MATCH (person:Person{name:'Dad'}),(keys:Thing { name : 'Thing', title : 'Car Keys' }),
p = shortestPath((person)-[*]-(keys))

The result of the search indicates the path from “Dad” to the “car Keys”.

match keys

How does the junk drawer know about the car keys? Maybe the blue tooth or RFID fob on the car key? The junk drawer is a plain drawer with a “smart pad” inside? I am still focused on the What or Why, the “How” is about the technology and that will will work out as the needs become clearer.

One issue that will arise is when a “thing” is in two places at the same time. This wouldn’t likely happen in the package delivery scenario but with blue tooth devices in a home setting it might if two sensors “see’ the same device. A device such a smart pad should be designed(or configurable) to detect only a close range. The system could take advantage of historical data to predict the likely hood of a thing being in one of the two places.

To start with the “How” is to look for a problem to fit the solution. When people can understand what the idea of IOT can offer there will be a driving interest to figure out the “How”


About gricker

Living and learning
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