The Object Network

One simple idea

Imagine that everything, every "Thing", around you had its own URL, its own link. This simple idea can bring your surroundings to life.

You're used to sharing web links to web pages, and are used to the idea that this little slip of incomprehensible text can be passed around and saved, waiting to be "cashed in" later, to reveal the full web page it refers to. It's a handle on the thing.

But what if your Lifx or Hue bulb, your Parrot Flower Power soil sensor, your Nest thermostat, your garage door opener, your Fitbit, your every Thing in the house .. what if each of them had its own URL? Wouldn't that be a powerful handle on those Things, too?

What would you use that for?


Like a web page, these URLs can return stuff - data. The URL of the bulb can return a little chunk of data telling you what colour and brightness it's set to. The soil sensor can tell you the soil moisture percentage. The Nest tells you how hot it is, in another little chunk of data.

So you'll be able to see the state of every Thing in your house using a single app! That app can fetch the data from each Thing's URL, without you having to pull out the Lifx app, the Hue app, the Flower app, the Nest app, and so-on.

Each data chunk would be a small collection of properties - a property name and a property value. To get this to work, each Thing simply has to publish its state in this way, to be fetched on the home WiFi from its URL.

You'd need a simple app to view them, or just something inside a browser to adapt it. This browser app would present the data as a table of property names and values. Depending on the type of Thing, you may want to refresh or reload yourself, or have the app automatically refresh every second.

Finding the URLs

Of course, you need to have a URL to hand. How do you find them? Easy - just walk up to any Thing in your house and it'll tell you its URL using a Bluetooth beacon.

Not all Things will have Bluetooth built in, though, so you could just have a unique QR code stuck to each one instead.

Once you've seen a URL before, you don't need to capture it again every time - just bookmark it. In theory, you should be able to keep reading the sensor values wherever you go, even if there may be some extra work to do to ensure security and privacy.

Out and about

This idea is not limited to just seeing data provided by your home devices. You can pick up and view URLs from beacons or QR codes wherever you go. QR codes can be attached to a magazine or on a shop window or on some food, telling you about offers or nutrition. Beacons can be scattered around a shop to return you data about the items on offer in front of you.

Of course, you could always get a public URL for some data chunk to view off a normal web page, wherever you are. You may even be able to watch the light levels of your streetlights, or the temperature in Alaska, in exactly the same way you see your own lights and outside temperature.

As before, the same app would work for all of these, rather than having to download new apps every time. The app could fetch the data from the URL via WiFi or mobile data.

Why data, not web pages like the "Physical Web"?

Recently, Google have been offering a similar concept - the Physical Web, which allows Bluetooth beacons to advertise URLs. This is similar, but not the same as "URLs for every Thing".

Firstly, it's not aimed at the Internet of Things, or home automation, or small devices publishing on URLs. It's apparently aimed at in-public advertising opportunities.

Secondly, the URLs of Google's Physical Web will usually return full colour web documents. We just have small chunks of data describing Things on our URLs.

This data needs a tiny bit of extra work to get it to your screen via the browser app, but it's worth it because our data is more far compact and more powerful than documents. Machines can easily read that data, whereas generally web pages are aimed at humans. This opens up a whole range of possible applications based around devices fetching data from each other.

A URL for every Thing!

Of course, this isn't available today - at least not in this form, but it's ridiculously easy to implement and would be immensely powerful and useful. Many Things already carry more than enough power to support publishing data on URLs, and would only need a small software upgrade to provide it.

In technical terms, it requires a device to serve JSON data at the URL onto an HTTP port over the WiFi. It can then advertise that URL on a BLE beacon, using a LAN broadcast or by generating a string that can be printed as a QR code. Someone has to write a simple viewing app or some Javascript in a browser to render the property tables in the JSON objects.

This simple idea needs a neat name like Google's "Physical Web". "Link2Thing"?

Duncan Cragg, 2016

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