Monday, May 19, 2014

CDN "SkyWatch" wins "Best Use of Data" at Int'l Space Apps Challenge

          by Sarah Ansari-Manea

A Toronto team has impressed the world with its dedication and ingenuity, to take home the top prize from the recent NASA International Space Apps Challenge.

Posing with NASA app competition judges are the Canadian "SkyWatch" team members including Dexter Jagula (third from left), James Slifierz (fourth), Roland Sing (fifth), Ryan Ovas (far right) and Stefan Sing (front). In the front right is NASA open innovation program manager Beth Beck, who was interviewed for the April 14th, 2014 post "Commercializing the Winners of the Space Apps Challenge."

The Canadian team behind the clever software application called “SkyWatch,” was awarded the Best Use of Data award, making them the first Canadian team to win at an international level.

As outlined in the May 15th, 2014 Toronto Space Apps Challenge press release "NASA Awards Toronto Team SkyWatch with Best Use of Data in International Space Apps Challenge," the application takes worldwide observatory data dedicated for use by scientists, and combines it in an easy to understand, twitter-like set up to plot the data on on Google Sky. The goal was to allow the general public to keep up with all the new discoveries being seen and recorded in space, and take advantage of the vast amounts of data collected daily by international observatories.

Its also worth noting that, as outlined in the May 16th, 2014 Toronto Star article "Canadian team wins NASA space apps challenge," at least one of the SkyWatch team members has a connection to the early Canadian space program. Decades ago, team member Roland Singh (who is also the father of team member Stefan Singh) worked on the Canadian built Canadarm program.

The winning team was only one of the fourteen Canadian teams that gathered last month, to compete in the Toronto Space Apps Challenge, which was held at the Ontario Science Center (OSC) from April 12th - 13th.

According to Dr. Hooley McLaughlin, the OSC chief science officer, “we’re thrilled to be hosting the NASA International Space Apps Challenge Toronto. The participants produce amazing prototypes in just 48 hours that change how we see, view and learn about space and life on Earth.”

And Toronto wasn't alone. As described in the April 11th, 2014 Toronto Space Apps Challenge press release "Toronto, Waterloo, Winnipeg and Montreal Take on NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge," many others assisted with contributing 8,000 participants worldwide of all ages, who worked on 653 projects from 95 cities all weekend.

To learn more about the SkyWatch application, please click on the graphic chabove. Graphic c/o SkyWatch.

In essence, the NASA International Space Apps Challenge is a global hackathon dedicated to publicizing space data, and finding clever and ingenious solutions to NASA designed problems and uses for the close to 1GB of data the space agency collects about the Universe every second. The challenge themes consisted of technology in space, human space flight, asteroids, Earth watch, and robotics.

SkyWatch was one of three Toronto teams nominated for global judging. The "Belt It Out" application was nominated for the best mission concept and the "Curious Bot" application was nominated in the peoples choice category, where it came in fifth.

Local winners included the "Enterprise SSB" application, which won the Ontario Science Centre Multimedia Display award along with the "Weather Mesh," the "Insight," the "Earthy" and the Astro" applications which each won honorable mentions.

Sarah Ansari-Manea.
The full presentations and app descriptions can be viewed on the Official Toronto NASA Space Apps Challenge You-Tube channel. A children’s version of the adult hackaton, The Youth Space Challenge, also proved to be very successful, and allowed young girls and boys to try their hands at app design.

Sarah Ansari-Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.

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