Section: New Results

Composing Applications in the Internet of Things

Participants : Peter Sawyer, Pankesh Patel, Animesh Pathak.

As introduced above, the Internet of Things integrates the physical world with the existing Internet, and is rapidly gaining popularity, thanks to the increased adoption of smart phones and sensing devices. Several IoT applications have been reported in recent research, and we expect to see increased adoption of IoT concepts in the fields of personal health, inventory management, and domestic energy usage monitoring, among others.

An important challenge to be addressed in the domain of IoT is to enable domain experts (health-care professionals, architects, city planners, etc.) to develop applications in their fields rapidly, with minimal support from skilled computer science professionals. Similar challenges have already been addressed in the closely related fields of Wireless Sensor and Actuator Networks (WSANs) and Pervasive/Ubiquitous computing. While the main challenge in the former is the large scale of the systems (hundreds to thousands of largely similar nodes, sensing and acting on the environment), the primary concern in the latter has been the heterogeneity of nodes and the major role that the user's own interaction with these nodes plays in these systems (cf. the classic “smart home” scenario where the user interacts with a smart display which works together with his refrigerator and toaster). The upcoming field of IoT includes both WSANs as well as smart appliances, in addition to the elements of the “traditional” Internet such as Web and database servers, exposing their functionalities as Web services, etc. Consequently, an ideal application development abstraction of the IoT will allow (domain expert) developers to intuitively specify the rich interactions between the extremely large number of disparate devices in the future Internet of Things [19] .

The larger goal of our research is to propose a suitable application development framework which addresses the challenges introduced above. To that end, our work this year covered the following related areas:

  • Multi-stage Model-driven approach for IoT Application Development: We have proposed a multi-stage model-driven approach for IoT application development based on a precise definition of the role to be played by each stakeholder involved in the process – domain expert, application designer, application developer, device developer, and network manager. The metamodels/abstractions available to each stakeholder are further customized using the inputs provided in the earlier stages by other stakeholders. We have also implemented code-generation and task-mapping techniques to support our approach. Our initial evaluation based on two realistic scenarios shows that the use of our techniques/framework succeeds in improving productivity in the IoT application development process.

  • Revisiting Requirements Engineering (RE) Practices for IoT: Requirements engineering (RE) has evolved to discover, model, specify and manage the required and desired properties of software systems. Conventional RE makes an assumption that the knowledge from which the requirements will be formulated exists a-priori, even though the knowledge may be fragmentary, distributed and tacit. Thus, although their discovery may take significant effort, the requirements are discoverable using the appropriate RE practices.

    However, the last decade or so has seen the emergence of new types of systems where this assumption does not hold, including the IoT. Conventional RE is ill-equipped to discover, model, specify and manage these systems’ requirements because incomplete knowledge of the context under which they must operate is available at design time. While some progress has been made, by (e.g.) maintaining requirements models that support reasoning over context at runtime, the IoT has now emerged to compound the challenge for RE. Drawing on experiences from ubiquitous computing and WSAN domains, in [22] we provided initial insights into how the field of RE needs to evolve in order to address the challenges brought forth by IoT.

We have incorporated our continued research in the above areas into Srijan (§  5.5 ), which provides an easy-to-use graphical front-end to the various steps involved in developing an application using the ATaG macroprogramming framework.