Section: New Results

Self-describing objects and tangible data structures

Participants : Nebil Ben Mabrouk, Paul Couderc [contact] , Arnab Sinha.

A development in the line of the coupled objects principles are self-describing objects. While previous works enabled integrity checking over a set of physical objects, these mechanisms were limited in two aspects: expressiveness and autonomy. More precisely, coupled objects support the detection of special conditions (such as a missing element), but not the characterization of these conditions (such as describing the problem, identifying the missing element). Moreover, this compromises the autonomous feature of coupled objects, which would depend on external systems for analyzing these special conditions. Self-describing objects are an attempt to overcome these limitations, and to broaden the application perspectives of autonomous RFID systems.

The principle is to implement distributed data structure over a set of RFID tags, enabling a complex object (made of various parts) or a set of objects belonging to a given logical group to "’self-describe" itself and the relation between the various physical elements. Some applications examples includes waste management, assembling and repair assistance, prevention of hazards in situations where various products / materials are combined etc. The key property of self-describing objects is, like for coupled objects, that the vital data are self-hosted by the physical element themselves (typically in RFID chips), not an external infrastructure like most RFID systems. This property provides the same advantages as in coupled objects, namely high scalability, easy deployment (no interoperability dependence/interference), and limited risk for privacy.

However, given the extreme storage limitation of RFID chips, designing such systems is difficult:

  • Data structures must be very frugal in terms of space requirements, both for the structure and for the coding.

  • Data structures must be robust and able to survive missing or corrupted elements if we want to ensure the self-describing property for a damaged or incorrect object.

In the context of RFID system, the resiliency property of such data structures enables new information architecture and autonomous (offline) operation, which is very important for some RFID applications. On this topic, a generic graph structure applicable to RFID systems for supporting self-describing objects is proposed in Arnab Sinha's thesis document [1] , and was published in [4] .