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Registries and the Physical Internet

Originally published on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/registries-physical-internet-ron-lake

While we once modelled our idea of information movement on the movement of physical goods (“the information highway”), a group of innovators (http://www.physicalinternetinitiative.org/) seeks to stand that idea on its head and model the storage, handling, transport, realization, and utilization of physical objects on that of the Internet. A Physical Internet is proposed which incorporates global, standardized object descriptions, standardized physical containers, and standardized descriptions for container transport and storage, thus permitting the development of a common global logistics for all manner of physical goods. Such a Physical Internet is anticipated to have a significant impact on business efficiency and flexibility, with a positive contribution to the GDP.

Like the electronic Internet, the Physical Internet will require registries. In the electronic internet such registries are comparatively simple, like Domain Name Servers that just provide the translation between internet server names (www.galdosinc.com) and IP addresses (216.129.80.238). Such registries provide fairly limited information about the nodes themselves, and all respond to the same, globally standard set of “commands” (i.e. Post, Get, Put).

Registries supporting the Physical Internet can play a similar role, supporting the discovery and utilization of physical resources. However, such registries would need to support a richer information model, including standardized object types, container types, transport and storage types, as well as standard object descriptions, containers, transports and storage, as well as managing the flow of the associated instance data.

Registries based on the OGC-OASIS CSW-ebRIM standard (also known as WRS, or Web Registry Service) are an appropriate place to start.

A registry is a web service that provides an open standard, transactional interface. Users and systems can easily register information about objects, containers, transports, etc., as physical objects move through the Physical Internet. Since such registries are location-aware, they can record the instantaneous geographic location of any of these resources, as well as the selected routes utilized in the movement of physical goods. Also, a WRS can easily represent the required taxonomies (e.g. taxonomies are WRS objects) – such as object types, container types, transport types, storage types, organization types, roles, and so on – that would be required to manage this system.

Since the Physical Internet spans the globe, it must be able to handle multiple natural languages easily. Registry implementations can do this for taxonomies and object properties, out-of-the-box, for any number of languages. Taxonomic queries (such as finding all objects of type X) return the same results regardless of the language selected for the expression of X.

Registries automatically assign globally unique identifiers to object types as well as to object instances. With support for External Identifiers, registries can seamlessly integrate with the identifiers of existing and proprietary logistics systems.

Registries support External Links, which allow information related to an object to be held in another information system and referenced from the object record in the registry, another feature that facilitates the ready integration of a registry with existing logistics systems.

Using WRS “associations”, registries can easily describe the topology of the routing of goods. Properties of Association links can provide additional information such as distance between nodes, transport modality, etc., which can be used by logistics applications.

Registries support automated notification based on changes to any data objects. Customers or manufacturers can be notified of the arrival of a shipment, or changes in object transports, or even about changes in how objects, containers and transports are described.

Registries naturally describe the life cycle status of any object, such as whether a container is “Waiting”, “Shipped”, or “Delivered”.

Using a registry makes it very easy to create a standard, and entirely portable, information model for physical goods, containers, transports, storage, handling mechanisms and organizations, etc. – something that is essential to tracking the movement of goods, as well as to all manner of logistics applications. Such a model is encapsulated in a WRS XML transaction and can be instantaneously distributed to any Physical Internet Registry, making management of the evolution of the Physical Internet information model far simpler than with any other technology.

In the same way that standardized registries were key to the creation and evolution of the electronic internet, so too are Physical Internet Registries to the creation and evolution of the Physical Internet. With the OGC Web Registry Service (WRS), a network of such registries can be quickly deployed, allowing the Physical Internet to progress rapidly from concept to reality.