It’s finally time to write about a new project we’re working on. Hopefully this also helps to clear up a few open issues we’re still working on. So here’s some news about a project we’ll probably name “bullseye”. To some degree it is an extension of the wine shelf. But it’s super flexible in terms of configuration and products. And – boom – it’s almost 100% based on YaaS, the new hybris commerce APIs.
This architecture is rough and can change any moment, but it’s a good ground to describe what this is about. The idea itself – again – is about selecting products in the physical retail space. And also about providing feedback to the retailer about physical interactions with products. YaaS plays a big role as we use the YaaS Builder Module system to edit all the configuration of the system. We’ve also written our own YaaS service, that provides the product matching logic in a completely tenant-aware fashion.
Platforms and Bases = Smart Shelf
From a technical perspective, the hardware used is less impressive. It’s really not the focus this time. We’ve worked on a 3D-printable design that contains the electronics for the hardware parts of this prototype. Each of the platforms below (so far we have about 20 fully working platforms) contains a microcontroller for the logic, a large 24 NeoPixel LED ring (output) and a LDR (light dependent resistor, input). The platforms connect via Micro-USB to a base (power, serial data), which most likely will be a Raspberry PI again. In between, we need standard USB 2.0 hub, as a Raspberry PI has only 4 USB ports and we would like to power as many as 20 or 30 platforms from one base. Check out some images below.
The firmware that runs on the platforms is able to receive a few commands over a custom serial protocol. Via this protocol, we can change the identity of the platforms (stored in EEPROM), read the sensor value or issue a light effect command (e.g. turn all pixels on, turn them red). It’s a fairly low-level, basic, communication protocol. The only business-level logic that so far still runs on the microcontrollers is the calculation of liftup times. We count the duration between the increase of light (product lifted) and the decrease of light (product down). To not interfere with the NeoPixel (light) ring, we’re blocking the event calculation during the light effect execution.
The bases, most likely Raspberry PIs, each have a unique ID. The platforms, again, have unique IDs. Via MQTT (node.js using MQTT Client Software) we can issue commands to the bases and to the platforms directly.
An important architecture component that we can’t live without is the MQTT broker. Due to port restrictions and other technical issues, this part is currently outside of the YaaS cloud. For now, the bases connect to the broker to connect the platforms over serial. The bases subscribe to MQTT topics that match the platform ids. They also subscribe to a base-level topic, so we can send base-wide commands. If a platform disconnects from a base, we unsubscribe from the MQTT topic of that platform. This ensures that the communication bandwidth required is lightweight.
YAAS Builder Module
The builder module that you get once you subscribe to our package in the YaaS Marketplace allows you to configure the physical mapping and the questionnaire that the end-user finally gets to see. The products derive from the products you’ve configured via the YaaS product service. Below are a few honest screenshots, before we even started styling these screens (be kind!).
As a user, you’ll first have to choose a shelf, which is identified by the id of the base. Next, you choose which product category you’re creating the recommendation system for. All products of the shelf need to adhere to a common set of attributes, hence the category. Third, you’ll assign the products of that shelf/category combination to platform IDs. Finally, the scoring configuration – which questions, which answers, which score per correct answer is specified. The scoring configuration is the key ingredient to the end-user questionnaire form. Once all four steps are completed, the retailer is given an end-user URL that can be turned into a shelf-specific QR code (or put onto an NFC tag, or put onto a physical beacon or shortened and printed, etc.).
YaaS Matching Service
Our matching service is triggered by a special URL that goes through the YaaS API proxy. All requests and bandwidth is counted and can later be billed. The end-user experience begins with a rendering of the questionnaire. The user chooses his answers and sends the data off to the matching service. The matching service now pulls the scoring configuration, the products and the mapping to calculate the matches. Based on the relative threshold, we calculate which products and therefore physical platforms are highlighted. Now, MQTT messages are sent out to the bases/platforms to highlight the appropriate platforms.
Once a customer uses the system via a questionnaire, the shelf belongs to her for the next moments. This means we block access to the tenant/shelf combination for some time. During that time, the user is interacting in a personalized session with the shelf. Lifting up a product results in the display of detailed information directly on the customer’s tablet or smartphone. And of course, it fuels a few analytics displays that still need to be detailed.
What’s next? tons of work ahead.
We’re working hard on the specs for the initial version of this prototype and some sample products, categories, configuration that we’ll use for the hybris customer and partner days in Munich 2016 (early February 2016). But we’re also thinking of a few extra features that might make it into the prototype by then: for example, we’re thinking of a stocking mode, in which the platforms highlight one after each other and the screen shows you the product that needs to be on. It helps both the labs member to setup a demo as well as the retail employee to stock a shelf. And we’re thinking of sending the recommended products via email. A customer could then continue the shopping at home which a pre-filled cart.
Got ideas? Let us know. This is the time to provide input!