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Testbed for Worldwide Agent Network: Research and Development


The agent-based service interoperability approach is intended to act as a framework into which existing and new interoperability technologies can be inserted to achieve a higher level of service interoperability in the widely distributed and dynamic environment. The longer-term objectives of this approach are: -To provide a reference model for semantic interoperability in open environments into which different technologies can be inserted and which can be reused in different technology environments (agent systems, GRIDs, eBusiness Frameworks and so forth). -Distil out the major aspects of service-service interaction that must be accounted before we are finally able to develop fully automated spontaneous semantic interaction between on-line systems. -Act as a complement to existing standards by identifying how they can be combined and which areas remain to be covered. The approach is defined within the project at three levels: -A top-level abstract interoperability model for communication; -Bindings (Reifications) for each level of the stack to a number of selected communication technologies; -A set of operational models that describes the resulting technology models is applied in practice.
Although not a ''result'' in a classical sense one of the major outcomes of the Agentcities.RTD project has been to create an active, worldwide user community of researchers (academic and industry) applying testbed technologies to their own application areas. The number of organisations involved at the time of writing is approximately 100 with groups all over Europe as well as in Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and the USA. Activities by many of the teams are supported by new research projects such as Agentcities.ES (Spain), Agentcities.UK (UK), WATAC (Finland), an Australia linkage grant (Australia) and the Europeaid @lis technology network project (Europe and Latin America). The community is in the process of forming a non-profit body to guide the further development of the Agentcities testbed and enable collaboration between these different projects. The non-profit body and associated resources help users share information about technical problems and act as a forum for reaching consensus on emerging issues.
The ontologies used in the project were used for two purposes: publicly define shared vocabularies of the project domain so that agents can use them in the interaction; as a way for an agent to discover other agents providing desired services and information. The project decided to use DAML+OIL as the ontology representation framework given the current and widely disseminated trend towards DAML+OIL. This decision has shown to be well justified since W3C has chosen DAML+OIL as the basis for their Ontology Representation Standard OWL (Web Ontology Language). DAML+OIL framework and language has the following main characteristics: The domain is modelled in terms of classes, properties and objects. A class may be defined as the subset of the elements of another class that have a specified set of properties. Properties exist outside the scope of the class but can be associated with classes. Unlike many other object-oriented approaches, properties in DAML+OIL may be hierarchically organised. Each property has domain and range. The property domain is the set of classes to which it can be applied. The range is the set of values the property may have. These can be specified as a class or as a data type. Agentcities: RTD defined a lot of ontologies divided in the following domains: - Auction Houses - Banking - Shows, Ticketing and Market Places - Security - Restaurant - Cinema - Hotels - Utility Ontologies: Time, Calendar, Address and Contact-Details - Geographic Information - Transportation - Evening Organizer and Event Organizer
The Agentcities testbed network is now being actively used by a wide range of organisations and this usage is supported by a range of network services which enable: service advertisement/discovery, identity management, communication as well as basic management. These systems will now be maintained under the auspices of a new non-profit organisation to enable collaboration between project users. Specifically they will also receive support from the following new projects: Agentcities ES (Spain), Agentcities United Kingdom, technology net (Europe and Latin America) that will keep the servers and systems available. This will keep the testbed usable for continued research and development. The current services are of a prototype nature but well tested. With new project activity the services will be regularly upgraded to keep pace with new needs. All technical documents, recommendations and interfaces associated with the network services will be free and in the public domain under and IETF style IPR policy (free reuse and adaptation with acknowledgement).
We developed a framework for service composition in an open environment that was instantiated using the FIPA standards and a number of open-source and proprietary software toolkits into a functioning use case. The implementation was then deployed on the Agentcities testbed environment and trialled in the live environment. Service composition is the process of taking a number of independently produced services, provided by a number of different providers and organising them into a workflow so that they run to perform one group task. For example a service that summarises text, a service that provides news and a service that sends text messages may be combined together to provide a news feed to a users mobile phone. The relevance of the result is in the realisation of service-orientated architectures for software development and deployment, which will enable software outsourcing and a more flexible form of ASP (application service provision). This will enable organisations to control and optimise spending on software use and provide a new business model for software developers. The potential of our framework is to provide a common starting point for the description of service composition solutions. This will provide (at the lowest level) a documentation standard for developers. At the higher level this will provide a mechanism for understanding and dimensioning interoperability challenges in a proposed system. In addition the implementation of the technology we have produced provides a solution for doing service composition, and may be useful for the development of specific applications.
One of the first objectives of the Agentcities. RTD project was to ensure that different implementations of the FIPA standard could interoperate. In order to achieve this, a Test Suite was created. It is a tool, available on the web, that allows testing the main interoperability features of FIPA platforms. The implementations of the FIPA standard used in the project were consequently improved to allow smooth interoperation. In turn, the feedback of this experience allowed the FIPA standard to be refined. Finally, considering the success of the deployment of the Agentcities network, several platform developers added FIPA-compliance in order to connect to Agentcities. This resulted in the following outcome: - A Test Suite that allows testing the main interoperability features of any platforms. The Test Suite remains available on the web for public use. - A wider choice of FIPA-compliant platforms, with different types of license, allowing each to choose the best-suited platform and enhancing competition between the platforms. - An overall better experience in FIPA platforms interoperation. This makes deployment of applications in the network more realistic.
The Agentcities Network Architecture (v2.0) document provides a description of the second version of the network that was developed during the Agentcities.RTD project. It is a technical framework describing a number of abstract concepts relevant to the network architecture, then a reification of that framework using the technologies evaluated during the Agentcities project and finally details on how the reification is instantiated in the network.