Governments and industry have been using competitions to spur technological innovation for hundreds of years. According to challenge.gov, US government agencies have awarded nearly 800 prizes, worth more than $250 million, in the last 7 years alone. The first such competition in America was issued by then Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson to design the Capitol Building in 1792. Part of the thinking was that the founding fathers wanted the building to reflect the grassroots ideas that defined the budding nation of farmers and merchants, rather than the high level ideals of the elite.
NASA’s annual International Space Apps Challenge continues this tradition of giving a voice to anyone who has an idea worth spreading. The competition focuses not only on improving our understanding the cosmos and our place in it, but how this understanding can improve the everyday lives of humans here on Earth.
Competitors work together in cities all around the world in a single 48-hour session to come up with practical, open-source solutions. Every year the focus changes and this year prizes were awarded to teams in six categories: best use of data, best use of hardware, best mission concept, galactic impact, most inspirational and, as always, the people’s choice award.
This year’s winning teams truly were inspirational.
Award: Best Use of Data
This team from Brasil wants to help breathe easier, especially during pollen season. They are combining city maps that pinpoint trees with weather data to predict the most pollen ridden areas and route people to minimize their exposure to pollen. The hardest part of the project is creating an accurate map of every tree. To do this, they hope to begin using social media machine learning algorithms, sensors on mobile devices, Google Street View, user feedback and real-time radar to improve their accuracy.
Award: Best Use of Hardware
Earth is a very special place for humans and we want to understand more about how it looks and our impact on it. With terabytes of data being generated daily, it is hard to see the forest through the trees. This Russian team decided to visualize NASA’s remote sensing data to create a 3D hologram of Earth that schools can use to show various information about Earth, such as surface temperatures, in a very tangible way.
Award: Best Mission Concept
Thousands of communities around the world live in areas that under constant threat of landslides. These events are not only deadly, but destroy property and infrastructure in minutes. As with many natural disasters, early warning is the key. While NASA already has a global landslide monitoring system, this team was able to reformat the data to merge it with data from local governments to increase the accuracy of predictions, issue alerts earlier and notify rescue teams about changing conditions in the disaster area.
Award: Galactic impact
One of the less discussed risks for frequent fliers and flight crews is the exposure to ionising radiation. Existing tools are difficult to use, so this team is creating a way to track and display the risks of radiation exposure in easy to understand terms. They plan to piggyback on emails, frequent flier cards and ERP logins to automatically track flights. In addition to calculating they health risks associated with flying, the app would also give suggestions on how to offset the exposure by, for example, telling you how far you need to run to account for a flight that you just took.
Award: Most Inspirational
To address increasing urbanization, Grovr has gamified growing plants that help clean air in our homes. They build on a study that was done by NASA which showed that certain types of plants can removed harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde, from the air. “Grovr is a social game that guides and rewards decentralized vertical farming, for a sustainable community.” The game encourages people to grow the plants that are best for their area and provides recommendations based on Earth Science data provided by NASA. People will then be able to earn points and redeem them for awards from contributing companies. You can also literally see who else is living green in your neighborhood as the map will highlight active areas as green and marking areas that don’t keep up their contributions in red.
Award: People’s Choice
In any disaster, response time is the most important factor for mortality rates. Being able to provide quick shelter, water and food is key. NestFold is a complete shelter system that can be air-dropped into any kind of disaster areas, be it fire, flood, landslide, or earthquake. Each shelter is self-contained and can house up to 18 people each. They provide everything that is needed to cover basic needs until help arrives. They can gather data about the surroundings, as well as collect data about the people inside. This data can be sent to other shelters using an ad-hoc network. The shelters can also communicate with a control center, which can dispatch rescuers if immediate help is needed.
In 2017, the Space Apps challenge involved 69 countries with 187 different host locations and 25 000 participants. Noosphere Ventures couldn’t just stay on the sidelines of such a global initiative and joined in on the movement. Thanks to the organizational efforts of Association Noosphere and EOS Data Analytics Inc, the challenge was held in the city of Dnipro, Ukraine for the first time. Their effort has already paid off, as the team Spacer from Dnipro placed well and reached 8th place in global voting for the people’s choice award.