Join an Open-source Apps Challenge This Weekend

By Darshan Karwat

Announcement for Baltimore-Washington Space Apps ChallengeWhen I attended a Google Solve For <X> event at the US Capitol building on a chilly afternoon last fall, I did not expect to come away with a seed of an idea that would sprout into one of my major projects here at EPA. Innovative collaborations are sparked in unexpected places.

On that afternoon I met Jenn Gustetic—a fellow aerospace engineer and the Prizes and Challenges Program Executive in the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA—who said, “You should propose a challenge for the NASA International Space Apps Challenge.”

“Why not?” I thought.

The NASA International Space Apps Challenge is a two-day, worldwide, collaborative problem-solving event that brings the public, community groups, and government agencies together to produce open-source solutions. This year’s event is this weekend, April 12-13.  One of the challenge themes this year is Earth Watch.

“How cool,” I thought.  “How cool,” I still think.

I started with initial conversations with scientists and colleagues from the United States Global Change Research Program. Those conversations generated a host of ideas for challenges.

Over the past few months, we’ve whittled the possible ideas down to Cool It! and Community Visions of Climate Adaptation —  two of the twenty final Earth Watch challenges, and two of the six climate-related challenges presented on President Obama’s website.

Cool It! brings together hardware builders, coders, engineers, social scientists, teachers, and community members to create sensor kits that measure temperature and relative humidity, in several locations, in real time. The data they collect will be used  to educate the community about the urban heat island effect, weather, and climate.

Public Lab, a non-profit organization that develops and applies open-source tools for environmental education, will provide expertise and resources for the Cool It! projects after the end of the NASA International Space Apps Challenge. With the urban heat island affect disproportionately burdening underserved communities, Public Lab is the perfect organization to link Cool It! and community science with positive environmental outcomes for all.

By using the latest scientific data from sources like the 2009 National Climate Assessment, the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, or the 2012 EPA Climate Indicators Report, builders working on Community Visions of Climate Adaptation will create apps, web interactives, maps, 3D models, and visualizations to help communities across the country adapt to a changing climate. People who sign up for this project will work with community residents, urban planners, and city officials to create climate adaptation plans that reflect community needs for the coming decades.

The Space Apps Challenge provides a working model of community collaboration, science, and education that addresses important environmental issues and promotes technological development to serve the needs of disadvantaged populations.

Attend and support a Space Apps staging location close to where you are this weekend, or participate remotely. To infinity and beyond!…and back down to Earth.

About the author: Darshan Karwat is an American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellow with the Innovation Team in the Office of Research and Development.