Linux Foundation forms Urban Computing Foundation to support connected cities

The Linux Foundation has taken the wraps off a new open source community to help cities with their increasingly complex transportation networks.

The Urban Computing Foundation (UCF) is pulling together software resources to improve mobility, safety, road infrastructure, traffic congestion and energy consumption across connected cities.

The initial contributors include developers from industry heavyweights such as Uber, Facebook, Google, and IBM, as well as HERE Technologies, Interline Technologies, Senseable City Labs, StreetCred Labs and the University of California San Diego.

"Rather than all of these groups continuing to work in silos, the Linux Foundation created this forum for developers to build open source tools that are going to be able to be shared amongst these different entities," said Jeffrey Borek, worldwide program director, IBM Cognitive Applications. "This eliminates a lot of redundant activity that's currently happening behind the various firewalls of the players in this space."

With the oncoming wave of 5G and IoT applications and services, urban computing is becoming a key element for bridging the gap between engineering, virtualization and traditional transport analysis. The compatibility among the various technologies also varies across the public and private sectors.

The UCF is tackling these issues by developing geospatial and temporal machine learning techniques while also coming up with simulation platforms for modeling and predicting citywide issues such as traffic flow.

"The Urban Computing Foundation came up in no small part because there was a desire to try to break down some of the walls between some of these folks that in some respects compete against each other," Borek said. "It's very easy to imagine a situation where it would be very efficient to share these types of tools and frameworks around geospatial analysis for creating these large data sets. There are all sorts of shared information collection around urban environments associated with the city landscape."

Kepler is the first project that will be hosted by the UCF. Kepler is an open source geospatial analysis tool that was created by Uber for building large-scale data sets.

Kepler, which was released last year, was designed to make it easier to create meaningful visualizations of location data without the need for coding. is used by developers, data scientists, visualization specialists and engineers to analyze a variety of scenarios that include transportation patterns and safety trends. Some of the companies using include Airbnb, Atkins Global, Cityswifter, HERE Technologies, Limebike, Mapbox, Sidewalk Labs, Uber and UBILabs, among others.

What is missing, at least for now, in the UCF is telco or cable service providers that are providing the connectivity for connected cities.

"You'll see service providers getting actively involved in this Urban Computing Foundation project," Borek said. "It's just not quite on the radar yet. It's still early days, but they definitely have a critical role to play here."

IBM's open source roots

While IBM is jumping into the deep end of the open source pool once its $34 billion deal to buy Red Hat is completed later this year, Borek said IBM has waded in the open source waters for many years.

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"IBM was critical to the founding of the Apache Software Foundation and we also founded the Eclipse Foundation," Borek said. "We also put our weight behind Linux to make it an enterprise grade solution back in 2000. Back when most people either didn't know about Linux or thought of it as a high school or college project by Linus Torvalds."

Borek said IBM has been very active in The Linux Foundation, including holding a seat on the governing board of LF Edge.

"I operate the IBM open source project office," Borek said. "My team is responsible for training over 50,000 plus IBM software developers and programmers on the right way to do open source."