International Space Apps Challenge in Kathmandu, Nepal

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Mentors, judges, and guests with participants at the Space Apps Challenge in Kathmandu (ICIMOD/ Jitendra Raj Bajracharya)

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), home to SERVIR-Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) in Nepal, and Mercy Corps Nepal hosted the Space Apps Challenge in Kathmandu from 29 to 30 April 2017. The Robotics Association of Nepal (RAN) and the Nepal Engineers’ Association were key national organizing partners. Kathmandu joined 185 other locations in 69 countries across the globe where a record number of participants strove to meet the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) International Space Apps Challenge. 

NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge is a yearly event that engages developers, Geographic Information System (GIS)-savvy students, engineering students, and entrepreneurs from around the world to work together on solving challenges relevant to improving life on earth and in space. The event takes place over 48-hours in cities worldwide and includes a virtual participation option, allowing involvement by innovators around the globe who are unable to travel to a host city.

In its fifth year of participation, Space Apps Kathmandu (http://www.icimod.org/?q=27093) drew a total of 65 participants (12 of them women) – engineers, students, and professionals. They formed 18 groups to take on global challenges set by NASA, and local challenges introduced by the organizers built around irrigation and water supply systems, river shifting trend analysis, and early warning systems for creep landslides, alongside agricultural drought forecasting and flood hazard modelling.

Team RAIT showcase their Smart Agriculture prototype 
Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD

Team Research Association for Interactive Technology (RAIT) bagged top honours and a cash prize of NPR 30,000, with their prototype that automates irrigation pumps in small and large fields by analyzing soil moisture data. Their prototype also provides updates on soil moisture and relevant stats to farmers using Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) technology, and will find use in agriculture systems in Nepal and beyond. 

Upon winning the prize, Denesh Neupane, with Team RAIT, said, “We plan to attune our prototype further to address agricultural problems while taking feedback from farmers and experts.” Indicating that future planned upgrades to the prototype include the introduction of a pH sensor and reliable computer vision, he added,  “We will invest the prize money to make our system cost effective and farmer friendly. We also hope to integrate an efficient drought forecasting mechanism by making meteorological data available so that farmers can make informed decisions.” 

Team Virtual Space App Exploration working hard on their Space Jockey app 
Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD

A 'Space Jockey' app that promises virtual exploration of space from aboard an orbiting satellite bagged the second prize. Team Innovators, an all-women’s team, won third prize for their android application 'Food Cycle'. The app connects people who want food with establishments that have surplus edible food, and has an option for donating inedible food for composting. These two teams won cash prizes worth NPR 20,000 and NPR 10,000 respectively, and have been nominated for the global nomination round.

A jubilant Team Innovators receives certificates of recognition and a cheque for NPR 10,000 from David Molden, ICIMOD's Director General 
Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD

Team First Attempt’s video addressing the “earth is cool” global challenge won the People's Choice Award and will compete for the International People's Choice Award. 

Sushil Pandey, ICT Specialist at ICIMOD and a judge at the event, said that selecting the winners was a tough job for the judges as well, as the winners sneak in with thin margins. He said, "The Space Apps challenge provides a platform for youth, students, and young entrepreneurs to showcase new ideas and test them. Within a very short time frame, these events stimulate creativity and help develop problem-solving techniques.”

Young Innovations Pvt Ltd, and Kathmandu Living Labs supported the organization of the Space Apps Kathmandu event. 

ICIMOD hosts the SERVIR-HKH hub, and is part of a wider network of institutions connecting space to village. It has been hosting the Space Apps Kathmandu event for the past five years under SERVIR, a joint development initiative of NASA and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), working in partnership with leading regional organizations around the globe.