Twilio

Introducing Relay – A Solution Built Using Twilio’s IoT Platform

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As part of Twilio Signal Conference 2021, Ibraheem Khalifa, the Director of Product, and Brandon Smith, the Senior Software Architect from Relay, presented their product. Relay is a small, portable cellular device. This device can be programmed for communication over voice commands, tracking, and sending alerts using an Open API. Relay uses Twilio IoT Super SIMs which provide global coverage and can be provisioned over the air.

In the presentation, Ibraheem talked about the history of the Relay and the problems Relay aims to solve. Then Brandon presented a demo of the product in a real-life scenario, as well as a live coding workflow using the Relay Open API interface. I encourage you to watch this session on demand.

I summarize their presentation in this post. If you are interested in a real time IoT solution and you do not want to worry about the hardware complexities and developing from the scratch, see below.

Relay history

Relay was first built to help parents who wanted to track their children without providing their kids with a screen-based smart phone.

After a while, Relay noticed that parents were not the only customers who were attracted to the product. Relay was getting sold in large quantities to companies that were looking for a solution to connect their staff with each other and make their infrastructure information accessible to their employees in real time. The Cincinnati Reds Stadium was one of these customers. For a big stadium, it is important to get food and beverages to their stations across the stadium on time, and this needs a real time tracking and communication solution.

Why IoT

You might think that a smart phone or a tracking app can provide the same benefit as an IoT device for the purposes mentioned above. The problem with screen-based devices, however, is that they can create distractions. For example, a truck driver should not be using a screen-based device to fulfill some aspects of their job, nor should a worker who is constantly interacting with clients be distracted by a screen while working.

In addition, smart phone apps need to be developed for different operating systems. Once available on the App Store or Google Play, they need to be installed and maintained regularly which produces some overhead for the users.

An IoT device is a no-screen solution that overcomes these challenges.

Real-life Demo

As part of this presentation, a real-life example was shown in a restaurant with food inventory in a freezer.

In this demo, a staff member gets notified of a temperature rise in a freezer by a repeating voice alert on a small Relay device. The worker acknowledges the alert by pressing a button. Then he walks over to the freezer to investigate. The worker resolves the issue by closing the freezer door which was left open by accident. To indicate the resolution, the worker taps the NFC tag of his device and speaks the resolution into the device.

This example showed how Relay is helping this restaurant to track their freezer temperature and to alert the staff immediately if the freezer temperature rises higher than a specified threshold.

Open API and Live coding

Relay offers an Open API for developers to create, register, and deploy workflows to multiple Relay devices as quickly as possible for their desired application. The Relay platform has built in speech to text and text to speech ability, implemented using their own libraries. It can also be set up to use external third-party libraries for domain-specific language processing.

Relay provides an SDK that developers can use to build their applications on top of the Relay platform. Currently, the SDK is available in NodeJs and Python languages. More languages will come.

Communication between the written code using the SDK and the Relay platform is through web sockets. This communication is handled by a series of events and actions. Events define what has happened, and developers specify what they want to do with these events using actions. Events can be lifecycle events such as Start, Stop and Error, button taps (single, double, triple), or notifications. Some typical actions are Say (text to speech), Listen (speech to text), Locations (indoor and outdoor), Flash LEDs, and Notifications.

Configuring the Relay platform follows the familiar development processes, namely:

  1. Start a server locally or in the cloud
  2. Create a workflow on the Relay platform
  3. Install the workflow on Relay devices

Brandon presented a live coding workflow developed in minutes to handle the scenario presented in the demo section. This revealed how easy it is to develop on top of the Relay platform and program their devices for a custom application.

Next Steps

If you would like to learn more about the Relay Open API visit the Relay website.

If you are interested in learning more about IoT, check out the following IoT related topics covered in Twilio Signal 2021:

For more information on how Perficient can help you get the most out of Twilio Services please contact us here.

About the Author

Homa is a Lead Technical Consultant at Customer Engagement Solutions, focusing on Twilio services. She has a computer science background and has worked in the industry for about 6 years developing web applications, including front-end and back-end development, database design, IoT development, AWS, testing, agile development, and leading teams.

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