Mark SayManaging EditorTuesday 29 September 2015

Defence Lab looks for open source collaborators

Dstl releases details of Baleen software to encourage external developers to provide improvements

The government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has taken a further step into the open source arena by placing the framework and components of its Baleen software onto the GitHub website.

coding_open_source_from_GOV.UKIt said it is looking for collaborators, notably text analytics specialists, in the further development of the software.

Baleen, which has been under development for a number of years, can automatically extract information from unstructured and semi-structured text. This makes it possible to identify entities such as people, locations and dates, providing valuable information for defence intelligence.

“We hope suppliers, members of academia and individuals will help take this further and develop capabilities which we have not yet uncovered, as well as find a use for it in their own work,” Dstl said in its announcement.

Ideaworks precedent

The organisation first placed software on GitHub, an online repository for open source code, in November of last year. It focused on the Ideaworks web application for bringing together ideas, a less sensitive area of research than Baleen.

Dstl developer Rich Brantingham said in a Defence Science blog, published in February, that the Ideaworks project was a “pipe cleaner” to test the experience. Baleen is a more sophisticated application that would work closer to the front line of defence, and placing it onto GitHub indicates that the organisation’s commitment to open source is growing stronger.

Other government departments including the Cabinet Office and the Department for Energy and Climate Change have also been using GitHub in their code development. Organisations involved in national security and defence have been more cautious about the approach, but Brantingham said in the blog that Dstl’s involvement could influence future thinking about code sharing and collaboration with technology companies and academia.

He added that US security bodies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have used GitHub, and that the National Security Agency has made some of its software open source.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0