Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Peg hosts NASA 'hacker' marathon

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A smartphone app that warns about incoming meteors is just one practical application that could be developed this weekend.

Two Canadian cities are playing host to scores of space-minded hackers in a 48-hour international programming event billed as the largest of its kind.

It's known as the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, and Toronto and Winnipeg are among the 75 cities around the world bringing together 8,000 scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

Participants from 41 countries will form teams and work to develop software that could be used in everything from games to tools that help farmers.

They will be assisted by data collected from NASA's spacecraft.

"They're giving us access to all the data that they produce from all of their spacecraft everywhere," Toronto organizer Jonathan Moneta said Friday.

The teams are made up of software developers from Toronto web-development houses and aerospace companies, as well as scientists, researchers and independent developers.

Hackathons are described as technology-development marathons where teams work intensively together and in competition.

Moneta said the space-apps challenge is the largest hackathon in world history, and the possibilities are endless.

"Developers will try to build applications like mobile apps that allow you to spot a satellite, understand more advanced weather patterns and know when the next meteor might pass by the Earth," Moneta said.

He noted the weekend hackers will get access to top Canadian expertise.

That comes in the form of about 20 mentors -- engineers who have worked on two Canadian robots, Canadarm2 and DEXTRE, currently deployed on the International Space Station.

The Winnipeg Space Apps Challenge is being held at the University of Manitoba.

Dario Schor, a computer engineer, said his smaller group of about 25 will focus on designing hardware for a research satellite for an upcoming mission to Mars.

"We're trying to develop new technologies for nanosatellites," he said. "Those are very small satellites that are usually under 10 kilograms in mass."

This weekend's event is NASA's second annual International Space Apps challenge.

On its website, NASA describes it as "an event in which citizens from all over the world join forces to solve challenges designed to improve life on Earth and in space."

The Toronto event will be held at the Royal Ontario Museum and Moneta said he expects about 200 participants.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 A8

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