On April 21-22, 2012, NYTECH was fortunate and privileged to have organized the New York chapter of the International Space Apps Challenge. Led by NASA as part of the United States’ domestic commitments to the Open Government Partnership, the event brought together thousands of participants from 25 locations around the globe with the goal of solving complex problems relevant to both Earth and space research. Pivotal Labs hosted the event, which had previously hosted the NYC Big Apps Competition and for whom hack-a-thons were old hat. We also had the great pleasure of collaborating with StartupBus, a group of diehard techies that organize cross-country hackathons on, you guessed it, busses. Sponsors included Twilio, GitHub, Amazon Web Services, VitaminWater and PerkyJerky.
Participants in New York focused on several interesting challenges. Two teams worked on exoplanet (planets orbiting stars outside our own solar system) discovery based on freely available Kepler probe data. They each developed a program to visualize relative exoplanet sizes (keplercompanion.org) and an API (ExoAPI) that allows a standard way to query the Kepler datasets. Another team tackled the problem of accurate commodity pricing in third-world countries via SMS communications on cellphones (Commodity Engagement in Rural Economic Sectors aka C.E.R.E.S). And, two teams rounded out the effort with the development of a new way to graphically represent common weather patterns and an SMS alerting system (Predict the Sky) for overhead passage of satellites and celestial objects.
Industry experts, Gniewko Lubecki (Fitzgerald Analytics), Bruce Niswander (Polytechnic University), and David Hochman (tbed.org), served as guest judges. Together they chose ExoAPI and C.E.R.E.S to move onto the final round in which NASA will select applications to be implemented in their technologies.
As one might imagine, in order to tackle such complex challenges, we needed participants with a broad spectrum of skills. API coders, database developers, designers, data visualization experts, and even a calligrapher, all attended the event. It truly was one of those “only in New York” moments when so many talented people came together for nothing more than the promise of pizza, caffeinated beef jerky (seriously) and the opportunity to help make the world a better place through technology.