MaterialSource, an online platform focused on the sustainable materials lifecycle, will relaunch with a semantic web focus by year's end. In development by ontoforce, the revamped site will initially cater to users in its native Belgium, but it expects to expand to include an international audience.
The goal, says ontoforce co-founder and CEO Hans Constandt, who also is MaterialSource's co-founder and CIO, is to “apply the whole philosophy of the semantic web to doing the work of connecting small providers” in the space. It wants to lower thresholds for these purveyors of products and materials for sustainable construction to get their data to their markets in an efficient and integrated way. His partners include ontoforce co-founder and COO Stephane Roelandt and co-founder and sales/marketing head Tom Vankemmel, as well as key developer Jaroslav Martasek.
“We’re putting semantic metadata around information from those providers’ materials,” says Constandt.
“A lot of these providers are energetically thinking in better ways” about building durable and energy-efficient housing. What’s needed is a marketplace that makes it easy for consumers, planners (such as architects) and buyers (such as construction companies) to search for products in context with validated data sources regarding the properties of the materials. That includes, for example, factors such as the energy output or durability of a metal with a certain amount of thickness.
That scientifically-validated academic data is critical, so that consumers can understand all aspects of the material for which they may be contracting, from how costs trend over its lifecycle to whether it contains components that break down after a certain amount of time. “We annotate that so that if you have a choice between two materials, you can take a greener material,” he says.
This entails providing contextual data and parameters around materials, with RDF tags and connectors that get information concantenated in one place, Constandt continues. “So with MaterialSource a consumer can make conscious choices for materials they’ll use.”
He envisions that access extended to the point where a contractor or architect consulting with a consumer can call up right from a smartphone comparative aspects around materials from different sources, rather than having to troll through books and materials samples for the same thing. The site's currently supported mobile capability will be semanticized by the first quarter of next year; the company is using HTML5 and will develop apps for both smartphones and tablets.
The Materials in MaterialSource
The entire effort involves a semantic engine that marries Ontoforce’s materials source ontology for provider data with external data relating to standards for various materials. “We do the mapping for them, so now it will be easier to understand the data,” he says. “A big problem of the Internet is disinformation – data is uploaded with the wrong context, so it’s hard to find.” He says that what MaterialSource does is take a connector from the provider’s end and its own – like a web service or SPARQL endpoint (or in a worst case scenario a web site scrape) – then build a catalog of catalogs that includes the product and sources of information about it that can be queried in aggregate thanks to the semantic context around it.
For instance, if a consumer wants insulation for the 9 cm. space between its brick wall and internal wall, he can ask MaterialSource to show him all the isolation materials that have 8 or 9 cm. thickness to create good insulation and lower energy requirements. “Then it would find these and tell him semantically not just the results, but from the ontology what providers offer them, where he can find them, what is typical and so on.”
The company also is investigating patents around how it provides a visualization of specs in a rapid and generic way. “Say that I as a building materials provider want to add completely new data, like an energy level parameter, to the ontology. Our visualization ontology helps you define the interface without coding,” he says. “The level of data and importance of data defines how the visualization looks.”
Among the tools Ontoforce uses in delivering its solution is the GoodRelations e-commerce ontology, the Countries ontology to add coordinates for site internationalization, and QUDT (Quantities, Units, Dimensions and Data Types in OWL and XML) for handling measurement conversions. Its semantic stack is set up with Amazon Web Servers, TopBraid Suite components, and SPAQRL web pages. It expects to use the Franz AllegroGraph database as soon as it has a reasonable amount of triples.
“We clearly see in the materials area there is a big gap for all of us looking at a greener world, and we need to get all the information together,” Constandt says.