Meet the three Irish winners at this year’s NASA global hackathon

12 May 2017

Trinity College Dublin’s sphere sculpture. Image: Marc Lechanteur/Shutterstock

Two Irish teams have made it to the global final of the NASA Space Apps Challenge, while a third team also received recognition.

With vast amounts of data being generated annually by NASA, both by satellites trained on Earth and into deep space, it makes sense to find creative ways to make use of it.

Each year, NASA holds the Space Apps Challenge, whereby teams from around the world get to tap into the space agency’s open source database of information collected from space missions, satellites and other sources.

Record number of participants

It is then up to the participants to think of, and build, a solution – be it for an astronomical mystery that has yet to be uncovered, or something that might benefit people down here on Earth.

At this year’s event, more than 125,000 people across 187 events in 69 countries took part, making it one of the largest hackathons in the world.

Ireland’s contribution to the event held at the end of April saw 50 people split into eight teams. They worked over a period of 48 hours at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute.

Once it concluded, a panel of local and international space industry experts selected two teams to represent Dublin in NASA’s global selection round, taking place over the next two weeks.

The first winner was The Polar Bears, an open API visualisation of Arctic and Antarctic ice data with the aim of bringing scientific data closer to the general public.

The second winner was Storytellers, a group that converted scientific data into stories that would appeal to kids and general audiences via interactive data story apps. One example the team gave was the tale of a penguin’s dream of flying, based on gravity anomalies measured by NASA.

A third prize – the Local People’s Choice award – was presented to Malax, a team that created a virtual reality and augmented reality application designed to educate the public on satellites, climate change and space debris.

Other topics covered by the remaining five teams included bee ecology, biodiversity, forest fires and flooding.

“The Space Apps event is a great place to work with people on solutions for challenging problem domains such as space with very interesting, cutting-edge datasets,” said Souleiman Hasan, the team lead for Storytellers.

While The Polar Bears and Storytellers will have a chance of winning one of five different award categories in early June, Malax will be entered into a public vote to see whose Local People’s Choice project is worthy of a prize.

Trinity College Dublin’s sphere sculpture. Image: Marc Lechanteur/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic