This weekend, teams of people will gather at the University of Oklahoma for an intense “hackathon” to find technical solutions to challenges from NASA — from as far away as Mars to as close as your backyard.
OU will be one of about 80 sites worldwide participating in NASA's International Space Apps Challenge that seeks people to help develop software, hardware, mobile and web applications or data visualizations for 50 challenges that NASA has issued.
The OU public relations students organizing the event have picked 15 for teams to focus on in Norman — including backyard poultry farming, 3-D printing, bringing the Curiosity Rover's activities to Earth from Mars, Lego robots, underwater submarines and more.
At the Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth on the OU campus, registered teams will work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday on these issues, and local prizes will be awarded at 7 p.m. Sunday. The top two projects will then be sent to NASA for its evaluation against other projects from around the world.
Traditionally a hackathon involves an intense, short-term software development event, noted Alicia Llewellyn, community manager for the NASA Open Innovation Program. But the Space Apps Challenge takes teams beyond that and gets communities around the world involved in creative solutions that can help the planet.
The European Space Agency is hosting events in communities including Rome, while a big group of software developers will meet this weekend in Nairobi, Kenya, among other communities. OU is one of three U.S. universities selected to participate. And some areas of the world hosting the challenge are located where people have limited access to the Internet on a regular basis, Llewellyn said.
“Enabling all these communities to work together is a really compelling thing about the Space Apps Challenge,” she said.
Half of the 50 challenges are space-related and half are generated from other agencies, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture's interest in backyard poultry farming and sustainable agriculture.
“We really focus on collaboration,” Llewellyn said. “It takes the work of many nations and many different types of experiences to keep people in space. ... Seeing them work together, seeing them learn from each other, culturally, technically, scientifically, makes all of our solutions better.”
The project will be held in Norman because a group of senior public relations students wanted to tackle this for their capstone class.
“It's really a big deal ... for our region to have this here,” senior Lauren Wright said. “It's been a learning experience all throughout this entire thing.”
About 25 people had registered for the Norman event by last week, and teams are welcome until Saturday morning, said Chloe Shelby, another OU student organizer.
And while NASA legally can't award prizes as an arm of the federal government, it can help encourage others to incubate the projects and use the projects.
Last year's winners resulted in programs that NASA has put into practice.
For more information, go online to spaceappschallenge.org, like Space Apps Challenge on Facebook or follow @spaceapps on Twitter. To see last year's winners, go online to http://2012.spaceappschallenge.org.