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ITU-T Takes Lead on Drone IoT Identification in 2019

Anthony Rutkowski

In today's fast-paced world of IoT, perhaps one of the most significant involves the rapid identification of civilian drones — more formally known as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The identification of civilian UAVs has become a critical public safety concern today. Establishing a flexible, trusted global means for identifying these objects through worldwide supply chains and resolving the identifier tags to a responsible party rapidly via a network-based resolver is a high priority.

UAV identification initiative

Tackling the identification problem requires getting a worldwide agreement on a common framework for globally unique identifier tags and a means for their resolution to authoritative tag information resources. The initiative to do that began in September 2017 with the introduction of a proposal by the China Electronics Standardization Institute (CESI) together with leading UAV vendors to the ITU-T's SG17 Security Group's committee on identifiers and X.509 digital certificates that has existed for decades — Q11/17 and now chaired by France's, Jean-Paul Lemaire. The Q11/17 group collaborates with an ISO/TC20/SC16 group known as "The ISO Unmanned Aircraft Systems Committee" which has itself undertaken the development of a broad array of UAV specifications. It also established the need for a unique UAV identifier.

Over the past year, the Q11/17 work progressed on the new standard designated X.sup-uav-oid, "Identification mechanism for unmanned aerial vehicles using object identifiers” - with most of the basic framework provisions complete. They await further inputs for an upcoming meeting in Geneva in a few weeks. The use case scenarios include the full supply chain life-cycle that includes local and national regulatory requirements, manufacturing, sale & logistics, repairing, and scrapping. The identifier platform chosen is the original universal IoT standard developed by the ITU-T and ISO now in widespread use over several decades for all manner of objects — Object Identifiers (OIDs). Trust provisions include the use of PKI digital certificates also within the remit of the committee.

Value proposition of the ITU-T venue

There are multiple compelling value propositions to proceeding with this initiative in the ITU-T that doubtlessly incented the UAV manufacturing community. One of the foremost reasons is that the ITU-T is an intergovernmental technical standards body whose sister body, the ITU-R also allocates the radio spectrum globally for UAVs. UAVs inherently give rise to some forms of governmental regulation — which makes an intergovernmental venue compelling.

The ITU-T also has peer intergovernmental relationships with other relevant bodies such as ICAO — the International Civil Aviation Organization - which last year held its second meeting of its Asia/Pacific Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force with a third planned for March — which has called for a UAV identifier framework.

The ITU also has UAV related collaboration underway with other user communities such as the World Meteorological Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization and is part of the global organization team that collaborates during times of natural disasters. The ITU also has multiple cooperative relationships with most other relevant regional and national industry bodies. Europe's CEPT organization, for example, has a joint ITU UAV planning activity in progress and called for an E-identification capability.

Additionally significant is that China's related electronics association and the leading UAV vendors — who supply most of the world market — are interested in developing a common global identifier framework that includes supply chain management, in the ITU-T.

Value proposition of the OID identifier platform

Object Identifiers (OIDs) were the brainchild of James E. White who played a leading role beginning in the early 1970s in developing numerous early network protocols within the DARPA research community at USCB and Stanford Research Institute — including the earliest digital object tagging systems for DOD Internet resource sharing.

White subsequently perfected the concepts during stints at Xerox PARC, SRI, 3COM, and Telenet — taking the ideas into CCITT/ISO committees he led during the 1980s to facilitate an array of core internetwork specifications for structured information exchange, software identification, network management, eMail, and PKI certificates — using a common critical mechanism he called Object IDentifiers or OIDs that are specified in Rec.ITU-T X.660 | ISO/IEC 9834-1. In the U.S., the Federal Government's GOSIP standards were based on OID use, and registration mechanisms were put in place.

Within the DARPA internet sphere, the DOD also adopted OIDs as Enterprise identifiers — which remain today the principal means for identifying companies, including software and digital certificates, and now numbering more than 50,000.

So why have OIDs been successful in the global IoT marketplace and why are they useful for identifying drones? It is worth noting that there are other IoT tagging frameworks available that notably include Electronic Product Codes. What makes OIDs attractive is that they are entirely open and have a simple numeric structure that is compact and enables many different kinds of implementations built around those structures. You can create structures that are oriented by country, by organization, by product sector — and they can all exist concurrently. The owner of the structure together with end users can also control the availability of information and trust levels. For example, ICAO itself uses identifiers under the OID 1.3.27 for its biometric passport platform. Microsoft's Outlook Express software uses identifiers under the OID 1.3.6.1.4.1.311.16.4.

In addition to the compactness and flexibility, OIDs can be easily "resolved" to get the associated information in several ways. A web-based platform has long existed known as the OID Repository that can be queried with a simple URI or browsed through a hierarchical tree. The Repository is the brainchild of long-time OID/ASN.1 expert from France Telecom/Orange, Olivier Dubuisson — who has led support for the platform and evolution of ASN.1 for fast structured information exchange.

Nearly twenty years ago, the ability to do rapid, real-time resolutions was advanced when Verisign created an IETF standard for a DNS URN namespace. Nearly a decade ago, it began working with Korea's ETRI which subsequently developed and implemented a set of DNS based resolver specifications that include an Object identifier resolution system (X.672), OID-based resolution framework for heterogeneous identifiers and locators (X.675), and Object identifier-based resolution framework for IoT grouped services (X.676). User guides were included. Like the OID structure itself, these resolution systems are open, based on DNS standards, and can be implemented by anyone — which would likely be necessary to accommodate different national regulatory environments and requirements.

The increased use of OIDs by the healthcare sector ISO specifications has also enhanced the demand for real-time resolution — as has the increased use for enhanced digital certificate trust features, and some 5G network management capabilities.

Next steps

The adoption of an OID identification platform for civilian drones is only an initial step necessary to establish a common worldwide framework. The next steps will require additional specifications and implementations across multiple intergovernmental, standards bodies, national authorities and vendors. It should also encourage new innovations by vendors to manifest these capabilities in forms that are useful to meet governmental and marketplace use cases.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC
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