America’s space program is about to get an international infusion. NASA and IBM are teaming up to present the Space Apps Challenge, a hackathon set to take place this weekend in more than 100 cities worldwide, from New York to Cairo to San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Participants will be assigned specific tasks such as designing better ways to process image capturing of asteroids, building open-source air traffic control tools, and prototyping proof-of-concept drones that could be used to transport materials within a space station. Many of the projects have to do with sensors of the sort used in smartphones; sensors originally developed for space research and now used for consumer/corporate use make up a major component of NASA’s considerable patent portfolio.
To do all this, participants will be given access to dozens of NASA data sets, as well as IBM’s Bluemix platform, a newish product for developing and running webapps on the cloud. Intending it to compete with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, IBM poured resources into Bluemix’s development—but nearly a year after its debut, Bluemix is still struggling for marketshare. With the Space Apps Challenge, IBM is hoping to get its product into the hands of potential future customers.
For NASA, the hackathon is a way to develop goodwill around the world, as well as a method of generating ideas they can later implement in house. The agency is cash-strapped and resource-poor compared to a private company, and new ideas are as good as currency.
In a press release, IBM general manager of cloud ecosystem and developers Sandy Carter said that “The NASA International Space Apps Challenge is at the forefront of innovation, providing real-world examples of how technology can be used by the best and brightest developers in the world to solve some of the most daunting challenges facing our civilization.”
NASA’s links with IBM go back decades—the two organizations collaborated on the Apollo moon landing.