Sunday, March 11, 2012

NASA making #spaceapps physical or "I just wanted some lasers on my fricken Arduino's..."

open.NASA - Making #spaceapps physical

Did you hear the one about the product designer, the jeweller and the physicist? Oh, and NASA too.

My colleague Jon Rogers (@iledigital) told me that he had just ‘had the Skype of a lifetime’. I guess this is the NASA effect. NASA holds, for many, the sense of adventure and exploration that is often lacking from our everyday lives. For many kids NASA and the space programme are an inspiration that lead them to a wide variety of careers in science and engineering as well as being a dream, that one day they could end up in space. And now NASA wanted to work with us!

Jon is a product designer at the University of Dundee and runs our successful MSc in Product Design. His research emphasis is on physical apps, which as he explains it are a way to take information or data from the internet and connect that to a real world device. He will be showcasing examples of this work making use of paper circuitry (and how it can save the music industry(!) ) at SxSW this week. Physical apps are a way of making the web physical.

NASA’s Apollo rockets made use of computers that are puny in terms of the processing power, storage capacity and memory of your average smartphone. And what do we use this awesome power for? To send the odd email and play Angry Birds. Since the 1960’s NASA has invested huge amounts in space exploration and in the novel technology to work in the harshest of environments, and in doing so has collected huge amounts of data and made many significant technical innovations. They now want to harness these archives to try and make “practical applications that benefit humanity”.

And they want everyone to help. Can you, as a citizen of the world, make some contribution to the big challenges that face the world? Does that seem daunting? By working together with similarly concerned citizens from throughout the world, NASA believes that by sharing your expertise you can make a difference.



Our first port of call was to the MSc Product Design students and we set them the task of thinking about what data is and how this can be visualized in a physical manner, and also about how ideas of space link back to life on Earth. Where do the challenges lie? The full list of ideas will be live on the space apps challenge page, but here’s one to give you a flavour of what a space physical app might be.


We call on makers, bakers, bread lovers, food scientists, product designers, electrical engineers and tinkerers everywhere to come and develop physical apps and hardware as part of the NASA International Space Challenge. Come help us bring home into space, and in doing so, help us shape a better planet.

P.S. If anyone fancies making me a little device that warns when the ISS is about to pass overhead, that’s the simple physical space app that I would really love!"

The Arduino Lasers just struck me as awesome...

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