Fifteen young people reach new heights with NASA data!

Over the weekend of 19/20 October 2019, fifteen young people from 6 DigiLocal clubs took part in the NASA-led International Space Apps Challenge.

Since its inception in 2012, NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge has become the world’s largest global hackathon, engaging thousands of citizens across the globe to use NASA’s open data to build innovative solutions to challenges we face on Earth and in space.

Space Apps inspires local communities to come together, think intensely, and create solutions to important problems. Each year, Space Apps engages thousands of individuals in cities around the world to work with NASA’s open source data in a 48-hour sprint. Teams of technologists, scientists, designers, entrepreneurs, artists, and others collaborate to answer some of the most pressing challenges on Earth and in space.

A special thanks has to go to Alex (President, UWE Space Exploration Society) for welcoming us to the Student’s Union building and hosting some very excited young people (and a few very excited volunteer mentors)! It was a great honour for our young people to join the UWE students and industry participants in this 2-day challenge.

Our young people tackled the challenges of how to;

  • spot and communicate wild fires in remote parts of the globe,
  • get cheap internet to the remote oceans,
  • gamify the clearance of space junk,
  • gamify deep space data through a ‘build a solar system workshop’,
  • explain and demonstrate the issue of marine pollution from plastics, and
  • use NASA earth data to educate people about our planet!

In the true spirit of hackathons and codejams, 5 of our young people stayed over night and were still coding into the early hours of the morning! The last laptop was turned off around 4:30 am. I don’t think the parents that came in to mind the overnight portion were expecting such enthusiasm and staying power from their 10 year olds.

Sunday morning found the young people up and coding at the break of dawn. Those that hadn’t stayed overnight returned at 9am eager to catch up and complete their projects.

By the official close of the event (4pm Sunday, 20 Oct) we had a range of fantastic projects, accompanied by presentations and live demo’s!

Team Space Potatoes presenting their project

All the young people did exceptionally well and many were awarded their Green or Orange LINKS Award wristbands in recognition of their achievements. Green wristbands are awarded for exceptional performance on an individual project, and Orange is awarded for exceptional performance in a group project.

Two teams were put forward to the global judging, and two special awards were made locally. The first Special Commendation went to Team Space Potatoes (Dean, Jane, and Milly) “Create your dream solar system” in the Build a Planet challenge for their creativity and the original music score that they had composed to go with their game. The second went to Team Super Code (Zane) “Journey of the other kind” in the 1UP for NASA Earth challenge for his very confident presentation and knowledge about how he’d like to develop his game further.

Aarush (Team Ember) with his Certificate and some of their planning diagrams

The two nominated projects from Bristol for global judging were The Magic Music Box from Digital Bad, and Team Ember (Aarush, Alex, Ben, and Rishi) “Wildfire tracking in Indonesia” in the Spot that fire V2.0 challenge. With three young people from three different DigiLocal clubs, this was a great example of what can be achieved in a codejam environment.

Team Ember receiving their Orange LINKS Awards from DigiLocal CEO Dr John Bradford and Prof Chris Toomer (UWE, Judging panel)

Much of Saturday morning was spent planning how they would tackle the project and setting up their resources. Github and Discord were heavily used by all the teams, along with quite a bit of Stackoverflow!

Team Ember were also notable that they mostly used C# and php, two languages that aren’t part of the ‘normal’ projects we use at DigiLocal. Aarush and Rishi did exceptionally well to translate their python knowledge to these new languages in a remarkably short period of time.

Alongside the young people we had a fantastic team of 10 volunteers supporting everyone with advise and guidance. We also had parents invited for the presentations and awards ceremony.

It was a real honour to have been a small part in bringing this event together and we’re already planning for Space Apps Challenge 2020!