News, Technology

NASA Space Apps challenge: designing solutions for global problems

Anna Wall

Amie Haven, Journalist
@uxconnections

For two whole days in October 2019, NASA will be unleashing its dam of knowledge on eager participants at a global hackathon.

Creative problem solvers from around the world are encouraged to take part in NASA’s annual Space Apps challenge. On the 18-20 October 2019, designers, scientists, storytellers, engineers, artists – and other creative science enthusiasts – will be donning their thinking caps and gathering together in virtual and real spaces across the globe. The challenge promises to engage people from around the world to access NASA data and solve some of the world’s most complex problems. 

The Space Apps challenge first took place in 2012, where participants designed education apps to explore exoplanets, along with an app that analysed the environment for ideal crop growth, and not forgetting the app that allowed users to share and analyse bizarre occurrences. The possibilities are endless, and NASA are keen to hear the kind of blue sky thinking that cracks open and solves problems in Space and on Earth. 

In the UK, Space Apps events are being held in London, Belfast, Bristol, Exeter, and Hursley – and there are many more events being held across the globe. But the good news is, for those who can’t make it to an event, the Virtual Participant option means you can join in from the comfort of your own home. Teams can be formed on the day and Virtual Participants are welcome to link up with teams and contribute ideas. 

At the end of the two-day hackathon, where participants have access to a wealth of NASA open data, finalists are announced in a range of categories and are put forward for global judging by NASA. Previous prizes include attending a rocket launch and packages to support the further development of design ideas. 

Over 18,000 people participated in last year’s 2018 challenge. Winners shone out from one of 6 categories: Best Use of Data, Best Use of Hardware, Best Mission Concept, Galactic Impact, Most Inspirational, and Best Use of Science. The winning entries include such wonders as Lunar VR by team Olik, who won the Best Use of Data category. Lunar VR was created using tools such as Google Cardboard SDK, Unity 3D, and Blender. The result was an interactive virtual exploration of the moon with the assistance of “Luna”, who acts as a virtual tour guide. 

iNON won the 2018 Galactic Impact category with their entry, ISDAPP: an app for analogue phones to support underprivileged fishermen. The team noted that fisherman from rural regions around the world do not have access to smart phones but still need up to date information about sea conditions, thereby improving their safety and increasing their catch. ISDAPP works by utilising the smart phone of a town official who registers the fishermen’s details on their phone. The app gathers data from NASA and Weather APIs before sending the relevant information to the fishermen by SMS. This brilliant idea makes sure that technology is not just designed for the wealthy and privileged but should be improving the lives of everyone. 

Winning in the 2018 Most Inspirational category, Salinity had this to say about their algorithm, SongSat:

“SongSAT is a tool to share the beauty of the world in different mediums, expressing the wonders of satellite imagery through audio. This allows the beauty of satellite imagery to communicate to an audience with visual impairments to enjoy the wonders of the world from above too, or to be used by musicians to aid with musical writing blocks.”

All the other phenomenal winners and finalists for 2018 can be found here

This year, the categories include Earth’s Oceans, Our Moon, Planets Near and Far, To the Stars, and Living in Our World. Each have a range of challenges to get your hands on. So, if you think you have the solution to rising sea levels, dangerous lunar dust, lost data, and orbital scrap metal then sign-up to NASA’s Space App challenge and make the world a better place. 

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