Monday, April 22, 2013

Our Space Future on Display: The 2013 Int'l Space Apps Challenge

ROM Director and CEO Janet Carding (right) presenting at the opening the 2013 Toronto Space Apps Challenge on April 19th.
Just over 200 local potential space movers and shakers spent the weekend solving problems and building new applications for space derived data at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) as part of the 2013 International Space Apps Challenge and the only real unanswered question at the conclusion on Sunday was something which none of the participants could really address.

Why weren't there more Canadian space organizations sponsoring and formally contributing?

After all, as noted by "idea hacker" and "community builder" Heather Leson, who spent the weekend sending out tweets to promote the event, "these people are the people you'll want to hire."

There were certainly individuals on hand over the weekend, "engineers who have worked on two Canadian robots, Canadarm2 and DEXTRE, currently deployed on the International Space Station (ISS)," according to the April 19th, 2013 Canadian Press article "Hackers of the world unite, this weekend," who assisted as mentors for the various teams.

But US and international space organizations were the ones who insured that the appropriate tools were available to build useful applications. For example, according to Toronto organizer Jonathan Moneta, NASA provided “access to all the data that they produce from all of their spacecraft everywhere.”

According to event sponsor B-Notions Chief Evangelist Greg Carron, the real secret to success for an event of this type wasn't just access to the raw NASA data. The real secret is access to the various NASA application programming interfaces (API's). These are libraries of software technical specifications which allow applications and data sets to communicate with each other.

"The NASA API's are a challenge to developers," said Caron, because of their variety and the disparate nature of the tools they use.
The TO based "Renewable Energy Explorer" team on Friday night. According to Victor Vucicevich (third from right), the intent was to build "a simple web application (which) tells you what type of renewable energy is the best option in terms of cost, future projections, output, and location." To see what they had to work with, check out Renewable Energy Explorer on the International Space Apps Challenge website. 

Of course, most of the attendees weren't all that concerned with the perceived difficulties. They wanted to build something useful and two Toronto teams were singled out for global judging, which suggests that they did something very useful indeed.

Not just a local connection. Space Apps Miami connecting to Space Apps Jakarta during the challenge.
These are the Aurora Localization via Starfields project (a contestant in the Aligning the Stars challenge) and Museum of Intergalactic Species project (a contestant in the Adopt-a-Spacecraft: Voyager 1 challenge).

As the only other Canadian city competing formally in this years event, Winnipeg participants also singled out two challenges to pass along for global judging.

These were the Living on Mars project (a contestant in the Off The Grid challenge) and the ArdIMU V4 project (a contestant in the ArduSat challenge).

Of course, Toronto and Winnipeg were competing against, co-operating with and contributing to dozens of challenges from 80 other locations around the world. It will be interesting to see both the final results of this years competition and whether or not Canadian organizations like the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and others will take a more proactive role in next years event.

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