Young minds come up with solutions to address global challenges

22 Apr 2013


International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development and YoungInnovations host NASA International Space Apps Challenge: Kathmandu Hackathon

Over the weekend, 60 young, innovative software developers, engineers, designers, and technologists from Kathmandu came together at the NASA International Space Apps Challenge: Kathmandu Hackathon to develop solutions to pressing global problems. The winning team, Mars Odyssey, consisting of Binayak Dhakal, Roshan Bhatta, and Sakar Pudasaini, developed an easy-to-use tool to teach children programattic thinking without the need for technical programming knowledge.

The 48-hour event – organized 20–21 April by YoungInnovations and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) within the framework of the SERVIR-Himalaya Initiative supported by USAID and NASA – embraced collaborative problem solving with a goal of producing open-source solutions to global challenges. 

Sixty participants, including 16 women, divided themselves into 17 teams, with some calling upon virtual participation and input from others around the globe. Using earth observation resources and geo-ICT tools, teams worked on challenges that included mapping emergency service providers in Kathmandu through an online interface, creating a mobile application that brings information about space and the universe to your fingertips, and developing a means for common people to remotely control and conduct research on ArduSat, an open-source nanosatellite, from a personal computer. 

“The opportunity to change the world on a global scale could be the impetus for future hackathons, and not just as a once-a-year event. Events like this could be held at schools, or even in a village. It is a great chance to put the power of problem solving into the hands of the people”, said Stacy Whittle, Senior Lead for Communications, SERVIR Program Demand Activity.

The top three teams were announced at the closing ceremony on Sunday and awarded cash prizes of NPR 30,000, 20,000, and 10,000. Arun Aryal, Deepak Pradhan, Roshan Batta, and Anil Karki, members of the team Phoenix, were awarded first runner-up for their all-terrain rover, which showcased the ability of the Mars Rover Curiosity to explore and assist in human research in space. The team also noted the potential for a rover like theirs, which is wirelessly controlled and equipped with GPS and live video feed, to be used in disaster response efforts. 

“The most interesting part of an event like this is the collaboration and integration. If we have more hackathons, we will be able to come up with more innovative ideas. We don’t have to wait another year for the NASA challenge; this is something we can do on our own. Students can come together to build some really cool stuff”, said Rabindra Kharel a member of the third place team Deep Space 2. Kharel and his partner Deerghayu Shrestha’s project developed a method to detect and visualize anomalies in spatiotemporal data that could eventually be used to detect hazards and enable faster visualization of the region’s climatic conditions. 

Basanta Shrestha, Regional Programme Manager of the Mountain Environment Regional Information System (MENRIS) programme at ICIMOD, said, “This event provides a unique platform for young minds to unleash creativity and innovation to advance our understanding of space and the earth as well as utilize space-based information resources for pressing environmental and societal problems. ICIMOD, through the SERVIR-Himalaya Youth Initiative, would like to organize similar events in other parts of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region in the future. 

Anja M. Rasmussen, Senior Manager of Knowledge Management and Communication at ICIMOD, emphasized the potential to use this hackathon as a model to tap into the ingenuity of youth in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region as well as build their capacity to develop solutions to the issues people in the region are facing. “It was an amazing experience to see a group of young scientists that have the potential to put Nepal on the map by creating simple technologies that can change the lives of people living in the region and beyond. And it was great to see so many women participating in a traditionally male-dominated field.”

In the week running up to the hackathon, Women LEAD, an organization working with female students in the Kathmandu Valley to teach women’s leadership, entrepreneurship, and activism, and Karkhana, a for-profit company aimed at developing the culture of experimentation in Nepal in the fields of electronics and technology, organized a bootcamp for seven talented female engineering and IT students, all of whom participated in the Kathmandu Hackathon. 

Nhasala Joshi participated in the bootcamp and expressed the challenge of working with a new programming language to complete her team’s project at the hackathon, which aimed to enable people on earth to programme and test experiments in space via the ArduSat. “The challenge we chose to work on required us to use Python, which was completely new for me. In just a few days time we had to learn it, and suddenly we realized that we can learn and we can do something by ourselves”, she said.

“Getting into the tech industry can be hard for girls in Nepal”, said Sakar Pudasaini, a member of the winning team who also works for Karkhana. Most of the bootcamp participants had little hands-on experience prior to the event. “During the hackathon, we threw a challenge at them and they managed, they contributed. After this week they have a lot more confidence that they can be awesome programmers”, Pudasaini added. 

The Kathmandu Hackathon was a part of the larger NASA International Space Apps Challenge, with similar events being held at the same time in cities on all seven continents. Together, ICIMOD and YoungInnovations will submit the top two solutions to NASA for global judging and awards, which will be solely decided by NASA.

Bibhusan Bista from YoungInnovations said, “This event provided an opportunity for youth in Nepal to harness their expertise to help address global challenges. When we started planning this, I wondered if it was really possible in Nepal. We have proved that we can do equally good things in Nepal as in the other cities participating in the event around the globe. Now we are on the global map. We are not stopping here; this is just a start."

For more information contact
Ms Nira Gurung
Senior Communications Officer