Open-Source Software In Mobility


February 04 2023

FOSDEM is an annual conference on opensource software and its different applications and problems. It is one of the biggest conferences in the world for software developers, that is completely free and open to anyone who wants to attend. Every year, thousands of developers of free and open source software from all over the world gather at the event. You don't need to register, you can just turn up and join in!

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend this years FOSDEM conference in Brussels, in February. 

Given my background, in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, and being a member of the AAPS CDT, my main interest for the weekend was on the transport and sustainability side of the activities.

This meant that I spent most of my time in the transport and energy themed workshops. In these workshops, different developers would discuss how the work/research they are currently conducting is going to impact the future of these industries.

The start of Saturday offered an opportunity to see some of the work in open transport. The topics ranged from advanced train scheduling to multi-modal trip planning. I found this workshop interesting because of its focus data availability.

The discussions on complex public transport would mean people need access to all kinds of data, e.g. transport schedules or traffic information. The general consensus between research experts is that maintaining our car focussed society is unsustainable. The opensource developers in this workshop have taken on this challenge and made strides to provide people with the necessary tools to maintain convenience of travel in a modernised public transport world.

This struck a chord with my work on autonomous driving. Whilst I have previously considered autonomous vehicles to be an opportunity to increase convenience to owners, I now more wholly appreciate the role it can play to fill in the gaps of public transport and reduce the need for individual ownership of vehicles.

I spent the rest of the talks on the Saturday in the Energy workshop. Here I learnt about the different software that has been made to help revolutionise the way we think about energy usage. The most relevant lecture was from a small group who had developed a system to allow an electric car to act as a battery into the grid. Given that 95% of the time a car isn’t being used, this could be a huge resource for homeowners and governments. Energy forecast and smart home management were also a theme in this, highlighting the importance for everyone involved to be more aware of the energy they use and how to use it more efficiently.

After the lectures I had the opportunity to explore the city. Travelling around Brussels was great because of all the bike lanes and public transport. This would be something that the UK should definitely take inspiration from.

The city has a really nice sense of history to it which could be seen from all of the monuments and traditionally building interspersed between the modern infrastructure. Combining this with the great selection of food, especially the waffles, meant it was easy to lose track of time.


I spent most of Sunday listening to talks on sustainability. These lectures focused more on the theme of transparency. There were discussions about needing to develop a climate of collaboration and clear communication in order to solve the problems facing our society. This felt like a really interesting point of view coming from an automotive background. Where everything is a competition for profit and only recently large OEMs have started collaborating. There is definitely a case to be made to push further openness and collaboration within the industry when considering the impact it would have on society. But converting this into a profit driven environment could prove impossible.


Overall, I think the conference gave me a much better appreciation of the work that opensource can do. It has made me consider the benefits of sharing work, and I can say I am now more opposed to the idea of intellectual property greed that is so pervasive in the commercial sector.

© Copyright 2021 AAPS CDT, Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems at the University of Bath