Friday, 22 August 2014

Appirio [topcoder] Open Innovation Platform Partnership with NASA For Solutions to Intersellar Problems

The challenges of human exploration of space are many from detecting potential threats from passing asteroids to the health and well being of those working and living aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Appirio, one of the world's leading providers of crowdsourced solutions has recently announced its partnership with the Harvard NASA Tournament Laboratory (NTL) to crowdsourcing solutions to the challenges of working and living in space. Appirio's community made up of 630,000 designers, data scientists, and developers are working with NASA and other US government departments, providing thousands of submissions from over twenty countries. To date over $1.5 million has been awarded to community members.

NTL was established in 2011 as part of  joint operation with NASA and the institute of Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. Its goal is to examine the problems associated with human exploration of space and the development of space technology. Using the [topcoder] open innovation platform, acquired by Appirio in 2013 and re-launched earlier this year, the platform's community was challenged to examine and provide solutions to the complex problems contained within the challenge. Areas in which the Appirio [topcoder] community examined included, asteroid detection, improved email and internet connectivity on the ISS, review health problems associated with living in space, and the study of the planet Saturn. Within these areas of study came the following challenges;

Asteroid Data Hunter

Detecting asteroids in space is a difficult undertaking not only due to the vastness of space but also the ability to obtain accurate information as to size and position. The Asteroid Grand Challenge launched in partnership with Planetary Resources Inc. (PRI) tasked the [topcoder] community to devise an algorithm that would aide in validating images of detected asteroids obtained from ground-based telescopes and reduce the number of false identifications. The second phase of the challenge, launched on August 11th 2014 calls for the participants to use the algorithm to minimise the number of false images through increase in detection sensitivity and ignoring imperfections in the data. The challenge is open for participation and more information is available on the [topcoder] asteroids page.




Disruption Tolerance Networking (DTN)

Those who followed astronaut Ron Garan though his blogs or his Twitter feed as @Astro_Ron during his time on the International Space Station in 2011 would assume communication between earth and the ISS was simple. The ISS has in fact faced many difficulties with email communication and internet access in terms of secure communications, efficiency and reliability. Over the last year the [topcoder] community has contributed to both the design and implementation of NASA's open source DTN protocol. The process addresses the problem of lack of continuous network connectivity adversely affecting email communications to and from the ISS. The community is using the existing DTN system to change the way email and calendar traffic. By changing the delivery system from packets to bundles making communications more secure and reliable.

ISS-FIT (Food Intake Tracker)

Living and working in zero gravity takes its toll on the human body. In order to maintain their health SS inhabitants have to undergo a structured exercise routine as well as the right nutrients. The microgravity environment of the ISS can have a detrimental effect on the inhabitants well being from nutritional deficiencies to weakening of bone density with risk of osteoporosis. Although proper exercise and movement can reduce the effects  of a diet deficient in the necessary nutrients could increase the risks. [topcoder] developed ISS-FIT, an iPad based app that helps NASA medical experts to efficiently monitor dietary intake and minimise the associated risks of living and working in space.

Scientist Sara Zwart Testing the ISS-FIT App for Ipad

Planetary Data Systems Challenge

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft launched in 2004 en-route to Saturn. Equipped with sophisticated technology designed to carry out 27 diverse scientific investigations Cassini's mission is to capture and record accurate measurements and images of Saturn and transmit them back to Earth for further study by NASA scientists. Whilst much valuable data has been received, learning more about the planet has proven difficult in particular studying the phenomena of Saturn's rings. This challenge tasks the [topcoder] community to create an algorithm to examine images from Cassini-Huygens and provide accurate data to help scientists better understand the rings' composition and structure. Participants will particularly need to seek out anomalies and features of interest in Saturn's rings undetectable by computer due to false positives.

The results [topcoder] has achieved impacting science and technology with NASA, the NTL and OSTP have inspired other parts of government to examine how they can use communities to redefine how research and development is done. Just as many of our enterprise customers are utilising the global talent pool of the [topcoder] community to execute disruptive strategies, the federal government is tapping into that same talent pool to solve some of its most pressing and complex problems. In some cases, the solutions that are created might literally change the world. - Narinder Singh, president of [topcoder] and co-founder of Appirio

The exploration of space continues to reap vast amounts of knowledge about the cosmos at increasing rates and technological evolution works heard to keep up with the flow of new data. The study of space reaps tremendous benefits for humankind but accurate data is vital for these studies. Crowdsourcing and open innovation can provide the necessary resources especially through dedicated platforms such as [topcoder] working in partnership with NASA and academic institutions. Such partnership allows the crowd to become explorers of space.