NASA SPACE APPS CHALLENGE: Virtual hack-a-thon creates home-brewed tech solutions

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    Pinoys techies create solutions while working from home

    LOCKDOWN is not a scary word for Filipino developers, engineers, technologists, designers, scientists, coders, storytellers, makers, builders, innovators, and technopreneurs who participated in the recently concluded International Space Apps Challenge.

    Run by a partnership between the United States space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) free and open data, together with partner agencies like Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) of France, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the European Space Agency (ESA), the virtual hackathon happens globally annually since 2012 and addresses real-world problems, like traffic or pollution. The most recent engagements produced awesome projects directly related to solving or living with the coronavirus pandemic.

    Some of the projects developed include road hazard detection, data visualization tools, and machine learning for satellite image monitoring, and a lot more.

    This year’s edition of NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic situation worldwide. The theme of this year “Take Action” — is a critical reminder that anyone can make a difference, even from the comfort and safety of home. In this unprecedented time, the Space Apps community exists as a reminder that there the tools and talents to tackle challenges facing the planet, as well as the ability to unite across boundaries and borders of all kinds.
    Vice President Leni Robredo said the event proved the Filipinos tenacity to do good.
    Leni reports: A massive percentage of illegal drugs still in circulation in communities. PHOTO BY ROLLY SALVADOR
    PHOTO BY ROLLY SALVADOR

    “Our ability to gather ourselves, organize, and come together have opened the doors to technology and progress. We have done great things, cure diseases, find ways to connect with each another across the oceans, and even walked on the Moon… all thanks to mutual cooperation,” VP Leni comments.

    So what did the teams of Filipino developers do or aim at doing?

    “Space infrastructure, space data, and space-enabled services, therefore, help inform policies and decision-support systems that can lead us to better plan and decongest our cities, improve our transportation systems, monitor the state of infrastructure, enable better connectivity, enhance our agricultural and fisheries production, and protect our natural environment,” first Director-General of the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) Dr. Joel Joseph S. Marciano Jr. encapsulates it, as he stressed the importance of space science in helping the society.

    As an example, the recent COVID-19 challenge winners and finalists discussed how their space-based solutions address the coronavirus pandemic during the Data Brew 4: Space and Ground Data for the Betterment of the Human Condition by the Remote Sensing and Data Science (DATOS) Help Desk of the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute with PhilSA and STAMINA4Space in a virtual meeting early in October.

    Software developer Michael Lance M. Domagas is optimistic that in these momentous and trying times, the country would still choose to prioritize and give value to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), especially in emerging fields like space science where innovators can contribute and solve the most pressing problems prevailing in the society and environment today.
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    Technology and developer community leaders and STAMINA4Space engineers as mentors helping participants during the hackathon

    “How could someone imagine that Earth-observation data coming from space could give us valuable and unique insights about the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic in various countries, and to pinpoint possible mosquito habitats which causes another epidemic called dengue?” Domagas said stating that this is one example of the use of satellite imagery and data.

    Since 2016, when the Space Apps program was introduced in the Philippines, the community of “techies and trekies” witnessed how they grew from a group of volunteers to forging partnerships with collaborators and stakeholders.

    “Why can’t we support our own modern-day heroes specializing in new and emerging technologies to address issues and help others in our country? NASA and partner agencies from other countries have already recognized the ingenuity of Filipinos for the past three years. Now is the proper time for our own country to recognize their achievements too,” Domagas pointed out also saying that though organized, Filipino science and technology communities have, for many years, collaborated and worked with one another in developing projects to solve problems using space technologies.

    NASA and partner agencies recognized the hard work done by Filipinos.  Pinoy teams have been recognized and awarded globally as winners and finalists consecutively in the past three years. Technology and developer community leader Tzar C. Umang from Pangasinan and U.S. cultural affairs officer Matt T. Keener, join Domagas in encouraging more local teams to participate. As the past teams have become winners and finalists are being recognized, the Space Apps challenge has had more impact and relevance in the local community of scientists.

    “The Global Organizing Team is inspired by the journey the Philippines has with the Space Apps program. In particular, we appreciate the development of STEM in the Philippines and elsewhere, because one goal of Space Apps is to foster interest and learning in these fields worldwide,” said Matt Scott, the global community director and storyteller.

    In the Philippines, Space Apps is part of the World Space Week and celebrates the Design Week Philippines with DTI-Design Center of the Philippines.
    Space Apps is a NASA-led initiative organized in collaboration with Booz Allen HamiltonMindgrubSecondMuse, and the NASA Open Innovation Applied Sciences Program.
    The local Space Apps Challenge teams thank the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) undersecretary for competitiveness and innovation Dr. Rafaelita “Fita” M. Aldaba, Analytics Association of the Philippines (AAP) president Colin Christie, former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) undersecretary and University of the Philippines System Information Technology Foundation president Monchito B. Ibrahim, assistant professor and assistant chairman for administration, Department of Geodetic Engineering at the University of the Philippines and Sustained Support for Local Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement (STAMINA4Space) GRASPED project staff Dr. Czar Jakiri S. Sarmiento, part-time lecturer and technopreneurship/program manager at the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP) Nitro Erwin A. Lizarondo, senior consultant for data analytics for social impact at CirroLytixData Ethics PH, and COVID-19 challenge winner for the best use of data Nick Tobia, and Africa University chair educational technologies and United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) Space4Women mentor Ms. Basuti Gerty Bolo from Zimbabwe served as local judges in Manila.
    Community partners include STAMINA4Space, PhilSA, the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCIEERD), DTI-Design Center of the Philippines, AAP, Data Ethics PH, CirroLytix, PWA PilipinasTMDC IT Solutions, Pampanga Developers Group, Koodi, Web and Mobile Developers PHUXPHDevConAlaga HealthPhilippine Information Technology Organization (Phil IT Org), TIP Nitro, De La Salle University, Google Developers Group (GDG) Cloud Manila, 98 labs, United Pangasinan ICT Council, Code UX, DesignMNL Studio, Talino LabsImpact Hub ManilaElinnov TechnologiesDrupal PilipinasPantheon, Wadwhani Foundation, Youth for Women in Technology (WiTech), KallistoWavefarers, Stock KnowledgeMVN Photostudio, and the U.S. Embassy.

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