MEST EITs win Ghana’s first NASA Space Apps Challenge

MEST, Thursday October 25th 2018

Last weekend, six EITs from team ‘Trailblazers’ - Vivian Opondoh, Jacques Amatcha, Jamila Jawula, Kenneth Simpson, Kwadwo Agyapon-Ntra, and Moses Amadu - took home the prize at the NASA Space Apps Challenge hackathon held in Ghana.

During the hackathon they worked on a mobile application that allows users to upload pictures and locations of wildfires in order to alert the community and stop them from spreading. They also built an API that uses machine learning to crowdsource and verify the uploaded information using NASA’s datasets. After verification, the app sends out warning messages to users, providing a wildfire reporting and warning tool. Find more information about their project here.

The victory proved to the EITs that after only three months in the program their MEST training is already paying off. Kwadwo explained,

This is the first hackathon I have won. I could see that our teamwork had a lot to do with that. I think the training at MEST showed us how to divide the assignment of the challenge among ourselves, targeting it from different angles, and in the end the sum total was worth first place. When we first saw the challenge, everybody looked at the areas they were interested in on their own. When we came to the event, we realized our ambitions were aligned. We all wanted to focus on the fire challenge. Two people in our team worked on the front end, which was an android app build in native Java, two others focused on the backend, on the API build in Python, and then we had the communications part.

Vivian added that the MEST training also helped them prepare their final pitch, explaining, “MEST has taught us how to pitch very well. We have learned that it is not only important to let people understand your product, but also let them interact with it and make them see the relevance of it.” They showed a slide with an image of a fire and invited the jury to scan it with their app to reveal how the API would process the input.

The jury really liked that the solution was practical and feasible. They were convinced that the team members had the capacity to make this idea a success.

The hackathon  took place 19-21 October and was held in the Ghana Tech Lab in the Accra Digital Centre. On the first day, participants were introduced to the the hackathon through a series of lectures, including  a presentation by Eric Aggrey of the Ghana Space Science and Technology Centre. The teams then had 48 hours to work on and present their products and ideas.

The organiser of the NASA Space Apps Challenge Ghana, Samuel Danquah, is a MEST-alumni with a first degree is aerospace engineering. He explained that while he has a personal interest in the subject of the challenge, this was not his main motivation to organize the event, stating, “What really motivated me to organize this event was the impact I think it can have on the participants. For this challenge NASA gives participants access to very rich and fast data. Here in Ghana, getting this kind of data is very challenging. So, I hope that these datasets can give participants new insights.”

He added that he also thought it was important to have more people from Africa participating in global events like this, and that he hoped this challenge would be the first in many NASA App Challenges to come in the next years.

The first runner up of the challenge was a team called Solaris Lab, which developed an idea for a machine that could localize debris around space stations. Together with the winners, the jury nominated them to develop a thirty second video about their project for the global jury. Experts from NASA will review the projects of the local nominees and give the brightest ideas global recognition. Global award winners in six categories will be featured on the Space Apps website and receive an invitation to visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the Space Apps Global Organizing Team.

If you’re interested in learning more about what the EITs at MEST are up to, check out this article!