• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

NASA space apps challenge in Nigeria

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Preparations for Nigeria’s participation in the NASA International Space Apps Challenge are underway. In a 48 hour hackathonat the iDEA Hub in Yaba, Lagos, and in Calabar, local engineers, technologists, scientists, designers, artists, educators, students, and entrepreneurs will be working with other sites around the world this week to tackle issues developed by the US Space Agency, NASA. Teams compete to come up with the most viable solutions to the 50 subject challenges which are as diverse as creating applications using environmental satellite data; designing apps to encourage energy efficiency; to creating a crowd-sourced development platform for future air traffic management.

When I first proposed in an article in BusinessDay (28 Nov 2013) that Nigerian teams should enter this global competition, my rationale was that inducement prizes such as the NASA challenge can enable innovation in Nigeria. Alpha 5 West Africa, a technology capacity-building initiative established by PetrodataManagement Services took up the call to action and approached NASA to organize an event in Nigeria for the first time. As they partnered with the Ministry of Communication and Technology, the iDEA Incubation Centers and the National Space Research and Development Agency, a second important rationaleemerges. With 9 African cities registered this year, Nigerian and other developing country participation encourages reverse knowledge sharing and challenges the fallacy that science and technology knowledge flows move onlyin direction: from developed to developing countries. Through collaborative and competitive ventures undertaken on a global scale, unique solutions to collective issues are derived from all over the world and such competitions are a way to showcase Nigerian talent and ingenuity and push Nigerian ideas outwards.With recent acknowledgement of Nigeria’s emerging capacity to birth the next big tech startups, why can’t the same be said for space relatedendeavors?

One particular NASA challenge stands out that has taken into consideration the developing country vantage point. It calls for the design of a robot entirely created from salvaging material and controlled by a smartphone. Nigeria is full of examples of creative engineering using basic materials that are easily accessible. For instance,as millions of plastic bottles are dumped into waterways and landfills each year causing pollution, erosion, irrigation blockages and health problems, Nigeria‘s first bottle house, constructed from recycled earth-filled plastic bottle ‘bricks’ and mud was built in Kaduna. Initiated by the Kaduna-based NGO Development Association for Renewable Energies (DARE), the project seeks to innovatively deal with the double issue of lack of housing and need to recycle plastic bottles.

Low cost innovation from developing countries in the space sector provides lessons learned to the international community as to how to affordably engage in space exploration. India’s 2013 ambitious Mars Orbiter Mission to the planet Mars was lauded by the international community for its $73 million price tag compared to NASAs 2013 Mars mission, Maven which was estimated to cost $671 million. With examples like this, it becomes clear that the goal of science and technology development through space engagement in Nigeria could be a worthwhile endeavor that not only can bring tangible benefits to the nation but takes nothing away from other priorities. Space technology itself does not allow a country to bypass stages of technological development, but, in the proper combination with other systems, it can speed a country’s move to modernity.

By participating in the NASA international space apps challenge, Nigeria has an opportunity to showcase not only the progress we have made so far with engaging in space applications and technology, but also teach us what more we need to do to be competitive globally. Petrodata have also partnered with technology companies includingArc Lights (distributors of LEGO Nigeria), Microsoft, Samsung, TomTom and Alpha Software to organize this unique event.Alongside the opportunity to be selected and featured by NASA, inducement prizes will act as incentives as local sponsors also provide unique local challenges.

The Space Apps Challenge Lagos and Calabar events are this week from the 11th -14th April (Lagos) and 10th-14th (Calabar). All who are interested to participate are invited with only two qualifications: a desire to learn and a desire to win! Find out more at 2014.spaceappschallenge.org/register and follow on twitter @spaceappslag

Timiebi A. Jeanty