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22 March 2012

NASA invite sees Dundee set challenge to the world

The University of Dundee has been invited by NASA to contribute to a new initiative seeking to solve issues of global importance.

The International Space Apps Challenge was launched by NASA today. It aims to encourage scientists and citizens from all seven continents - and in space - to create, build, and invent new solutions to a series of challenges, two of which have been set by Dundee staff and students.

The history of space exploration has shown that technology designed for use beyond the Earth's surface has proven to drive real-world innovations, and the Apps Challenge seeks to bring about further developments by asking participants to create devices with clear benefits in other areas.

The invite came about as a result of a link-up between the Product Design programme at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD), part of the University, and software giant Mozilla, who recommended Dundee to NASA on account of their expertise in creating "physical apps".

Product Design director Dr Jon Rogers then engaged two of his colleagues in the project, Dr David McGloin of the University's Physics department, and Dr Sandra Wilson, from Jewellery & Metal Design at DJCAD.

The first challenge set by the Dundee team is '#bakerfaire', which examines how to make bread in space in order to give astronauts a taste of home and which challenges people to make use of low-energy appliances to achieve this.

The second, '#welovedata', looks at how to link NASA data with physical objects in a useful and interactive way and asks participants to create a piece of jewellery for example, which might set off a warning if a space station passes overhead in order to identify whether we can wear data in order to achieve a different relationship with space.

Dr Rogers said he was delighted to be involved, and that the process of setting the challenges had been a positive one.

"To have been asked specifically to help facilitate this project and to work with NASA in any way is really exciting," he said. "It shows the values of our relationships with companies with Mozilla, and staff and students from the MSc Product Design course have been busy getting our teeth into the challenge of setting challenges.

"I think what NASA liked was our experience of working with physical objects in everyday life as opposed to mobile apps tied to a mobile device. - its about bringing some of the digital into the physical world and enhancing the way that we engage with data and technology

Apps have become a well-known phenomenon in recent years, particularly in relation to their use in smart phones and other forms of digital technology, but physical apps are another - possibly the next big - iteration of web technology. This links to the International Space Apps Challenge as NASA were keen to push the barriers of the physical world in order to make people feel an increased connection with space.

Dr McGloin added, "The idea is to try and bring people form all over the world to look at solving significant global challenges. If you can imagine the film Apollo 13, where there are 10 guys in a room trying to solve a problem, then it's the same but with millions of people around the world coming together to solve big problems.

"The challenges we set are very specific, but the process of innovation, the things the participants must think about and the technology they use are applicable to many other real-world challenges. For example, the challenge of enabling astronauts to make bread in space requires the use of low-energy sources which can bring significant benefits to developing countries, and help to cut carbon emissions.

"NASA put out an open invitation as to what some of these might be and mainly received software challenges making use of various types of data but wanted some more physical or hardware challenges and so they got in touch with Dundee. "

The International Space Apps Challenge is an innovative international collaboration that accelerates the development of solutions focused on addressing critical issues on our planet.

Space agencies around the world are continuing to focus on a vigorous path of innovation and technological development leading to an array of challenging and inspiring missions to destinations with an incredible potential for discovery.

The International Space Apps Challenge provides new opportunities for governments to engage citizens in this exploration mission by leveraging their expertise and entrepreneurial spirit to help address challenges of global importance. The event embraces the concept of 'open innovation' to improve performance, inform decision-making, encourage entrepreneurship, and solve problems more effectively.

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University of Dundee
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