COMPETITION: Resolving the Internet of *Every* Thing

The Opportunity: Every day, more and more physical items–including apparel, pharmaceuticals, packages, automotive parts, and even golf balls–are connected to the Internet by digital identifiers enabled by technologies like RAIN RFID. The digital identifier is a universally unique number that…

The Opportunity:

Every day, more and more physical items–including apparel, pharmaceuticals, packages, automotive parts, and even golf balls–are connected to the Internet by digital identifiers enabled by technologies like RAIN RFID. The digital identifier is a universally unique number that acts like an address to that item’s digital twin, linking the physical item to the digital world.

From retailers gaining visibility into their inventory, to airlines tracking travelers’ luggage, to warehouses ensuring the authenticity of their shipments, businesses around the world are gaining value from real-time visibility into the items they manufacture, transport, or sell. In the future we expect more people, including consumers, to engage a connected thing from its point of manufacture, across the supply chain, and ultimately to their home.

To realize this future, we must deliver a web resolver that links the unique digital identifier associated with the physical item to its digital twin in the cloud. The digital twin includes more information about the item including its history and ownership. A visionary example of what we’d like to achieve with the Internet of Things (IoT) is the Internet itself. IEEE is seeking innovative ideas for a web resolver to enable the next era of digital item ownership.


The Problem
Today’s IoT is comprised of many disconnected intranets of things, where individual companies or industries can look up their own items, but related parties or consumers cannot access the digital twins for items they own. This may be because companies are connecting their items primarily for short-term business goals and are not yet tackling the long-term potential and complexity of information-sharing and interactions with their supply chain or consumers.


There is also a growing mix of unique identifier numbering systems, which makes it difficult to know the specific intranet where the digital twin resides. Examples of today’s numbering systems include GS1 SGTIN used for retail, ISO IATA used for airline baggage, and vendor-defined, or proprietary, systems used for custom, or “closed-loop,” systems which typically deliver value to a single user and application (see “Resources” under the FAQ tab for more information on numbering systems). Additional numbering systems are created because companies may be unaware of existing standardized numbering systems or find these standards too complex to encode properly or too restrictive compared to the data they’d prefer to encode on their limited-memory RAIN RFID tags. This means that it can be difficult for anyone reading a RAIN RFID tag, such as a consumer wishing to learn more about their items, to know which intranet contains the item’s information. In addition, other IoT technologies have their own digital identifiers which makes it difficult to link together item data from these complimentary systems.


Resolver Pain Points
Today’s RAIN RFID number resolution methods do not universally resolve the item identifier stored on a RAIN RFID tag, which has limited memory (typically around 96 or 128 bits). The variety of numbering systems used to encode the unique identifier on a RAIN RFID tag makes it difficult to know where to go to decode the data. Even if you are able to identify the data owner, the resolver and/or the intranet to which it points is typically a private service that does not allow access to the digital twin, let alone the transfer of its ownership throughout the item lifecycle. Each item owner may want to define and share item information differently– for example, the manufacturer may want to track the batch in which the item was produced and share this information with supply chain partners; whereas the consumer may want to store how much the item cost but not share this information with anyone. Further, a persistent unique-identifier attached to an item can be considered personally-identifiable information, meaning that the identifier needs to be protected for privacy.


Example Resolvers
The modern-day internet seamlessly connects users to web-based content through the Domain Name System (DNS): a hierarchical, distributed database, operated by millions of entities around the world, that maps domain names to their correlating IP address. Domain names are purchased, whereas unique IP addresses are allocated and assigned (see “Resources” in the FAQ tab).


Other examples include:

The DOI system: for academic papers and research awards
GS1 Digital Link: for tags encoded with GS1 numbering systems a private service for company-specific applications
Learn more about these resolvers and additional background on IOT considerations.


The Challenge Breakthrough
We envision a world where people can quickly identify, locate, and authenticate the things that matter to them. We seek a true IoT with the following principles:

Every item has a digital twin.
A twin is an item’s digital representation.
A twin’s creator is its owner and has complete, granular control over its visibility.
Any type of digital identifier can be used to look up a twin.
Learn more about the digital twin vision and principles.


We want to establish a true IoT that people and businesses around the world can access. This resolver must:

Universally identify things: Work with unique identifiers encoded by a variety of numbering systems to resolve the item’s digital twin stored in the cloud. A stretch goal is to also enable item data from complimentary IoT technologies beyond RAIN RFID to be resolved with the digital twin.
Enable ownership and sharing: Enable item owners to own their items’ digital twins and choose how they share the information.
Provide trust and privacy: Verify data and identities and protect consumer privacy (for example, by protecting persistent identifiers).
Leverage existing infrastructure: Use existing technology, standards, protocols, methodologies, and other infrastructure wherever possible.
Be scalable and easy to use: Adoption, operation, and construction should be designed to be simple and desirable for companies and consumers.