Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Last week, the Linux Foundation announced a new industry-wide effort called the Urban Computing Foundation to create common, open-source software that will "support the cities of tomorrow". This initiative will provide tools that can be used to assess, monitor and potentially improve mobility, safety, road infrastructure, traffic congestion and energy consumption in connected cities. Initial participants include Uber, Facebook, Google, Here Technologies, IBM, Interline Technologies, Senseable City Lab, StreetCred and the University of California San Diego.
The Urban Computing Foundation says its mission is to help those involved to improve urban environments, human life quality and city operation systems. If its platform is successful, the foundation believes it could not only minimize pollution, congestion and consumption, but also ensure that technology has a positive impact on urban landscapes.
This all sounds very virtuous, and it's no wonder that companies like Facebook, Google and Uber want to be linked with it. We applaud the altruistic benefits of the platform, but there's little doubt that many of the members will be participating because they have a vested interest in being able to exploit this opportunity.
The first project hosted by the Urban Computing Foundation is Kepler.gl, Uber's open-source, no-code geospatial analysis tool for creating large-scale data sets. Released in 2018, Kepler is used by Airbnb, Atkins Global, CitySwifter, Lime, Mapbox, Sidewalk Labs, UBILabs and others, to generate visualizations of location data and quickly glean insights from them. Using the tool, users can view a file with different map layers, explore it by filtering and aggregating, and export the final visualization as a static map or an animated video. Instead of spanning multiple browsers and consuming weeks of work at a time, Kepler places the entire design process in a single user interface and takes only a few minutes of users' time.
The Urban Computing Foundation is an interesting approach to developing software to aid smarter, more data-driven city planning decisions. Tools like Kepler can produce insights about mobility and transportation trends ranging from congestion and road safety to infrastructure planning and air quality. A good example of this is UK commuting patterns, shown here.
In the next few years, smart cities will see the advent of driverless cars and maintenance drones that will increasingly depend on real-time telemetry to function. One of the underlying platforms tying all this together will be 5G. The next-generation networks will allow operators to mine vast data sets for practical understanding that will be crucial in achieving sustainable urban growth. Having open-source tools that can help with this challenge can only be a positive direction.