Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Crowd Sourcing the Next Great Space Application

          By Brian Orlotti

The 2015 Toronto Space Apps Challenge, being held this year from April 10th - 12th at the offices of BNOTIONS (a mobile data and analytics firm) as part of the larger NASA International Space Apps Challenge, promises to once again serve as a catalyst for innovative solutions to the challenges of space.

The Toronto based Skywatch team won the 2014 NASA International Space Apps Challenge in the "best use of data" category by creating a visual representation of data collected from observatories around the world. As outlined in the SkyWatch website, the developers were then accepted into the Google for Entrepreneurs program at Communitech in Waterloo, Ontario. Graphic c/o SkyWatch. 

Since 2012, the International Space Apps Challenge has brought together coders, makers and entrepreneurs from around the world to foster innovation and make space exploration more engaging by solving various 'challenges' devised by NASA. Over two days, participants work in teams to solve these challenges by creating software and hardware solutions utilizing science data from NASA assets, including satellites and space probes. In 2014, over 8,000 people in 95 events around the world took part.

Challenges to be tackled this year by Toronto teams include:
  • 3-2-1 LIFTOFF - In this challenge, the team must develop an application that portrays all the variables involved with making a rocket launch decision. Teams are to create a way to analyse data from a rocket, weather conditions, range safety, etc. The application should enable the user to decide when to fuel a rocket, when to clear the launch range and its airspace, and how to detect weather that could affect a launch.
  • Open-source Air Traffic Tracking -  In this challenge, the team must build an open-source air traffic tracking tool that allows users to select a particular flight and see out-the-window or other views of the aircraft and airspace. Using current and/or historical data from sources like radio traffic, weather reports, air traffic control and flight plans, such a tool could allow air crash investigators to replay accidents from any angle or let researchers replay a test flight from any angle.
  • 3D AstroMed Devices - In this challenge, the team must utilize 3D modelling software and 3D printers to reimagine medical devices and equipment for use on long-duration space missions far from Earth.

BNOTIONS partner Mark Reale at his offices on March 31st. "This is the third year my company has been involved in the planning and organizing of this event. We're looking forward to exposing a new crop of contestants to an extraordinary roster of mentors." Mentors for the event include past and present astronauts, aerospace engineers, and software designers. Sponsors and community supporters for the event include Phuse, SkyWatch, #DevTO, MLH, CleverHost and Pebble. Photo c/o Chuck Black.

The International Space Apps Challenge was created by former NASA Open Innovation Program members Nicholas Skytland, Ali Llewellyn, and Sean Herron to fulfill a White House mandate to make US government science data available to the public. NASA, by distributing this data via mechanisms like the Space Apps Challenge, seeks to create a global community of problem-solvers.  In turn, this community would not only give rise to new companies and industries, but also provide new innovations that could be incorporated back into NASA’s own programs.

Brian Orlotti.
If previous years are any indication, the 2015 Toronto Space Apps Challenge promises to be an engaging showcase of Canadians' creativity and skill.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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