By: Hailey Temple

The School of Information Studies (iSchool) and its New Explorations in Information and Science (NEXIS) lab sponsored the NASA Space Apps Challenge last weekend, where students used their collaborative skills and passion for technology exploration to create open-source solutions that address issues both on Earth and in space.

During the 48-hour challenge, Syracuse University students, faculty members, and individuals from the community competed with developers from 82 other destinations across the globe to create solutions from open-source technology. Groups were highly encouraged to collaborate with participants and to use their skills to create the best solution possible in this hack-a-thon style event.

Student Chelsea Orcutt, local organizer and representative for NASA at the iSchool, sees the advantages the Space Apps Challenge presented for students during the iSchool’s first time in the event. “The cornerstone of Space Apps is collaboration. It was exciting to see the projects that sites around the world were working on, and update them on our progress. The whole event gives ordinary citizens who are interested in space exploration and NASA an opportunity to be part of a global movement,” said Orcutt.

NASA presented eight challenges to the over 9000 participants around the world. The iSchool teams who participated in the event chose to work with LEAP Motion Technology, a device that picks up natural hand gestures to perform functions on the computer. Thanks to LEAP Motion and iSchool alumna Elizabeth Ruscitto G’12, the team was able to work with LEAP Motion and create a way for NASA to control an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV). This open-source ROV can be controlled through simple hand movements and used to explore the ocean while being navigated by a computer.

“LEAP motion is a highly useful tool not just in space exploration, but also in other fields like healthcare and 3D graphics,” said student Ross Lazerowitz, one of the team members in the Space Apps Challenge group. “It amazing because you are able to manipulate objects with hands-on creativity and design since you can touch and mold the objects like clay.”

The will submit a video demonstration of their work to NASA, which will be judged against other products from around the world and eligible for prizes. The team has also made their project available on GitHub for further modifications by other interested users.

Anthony Rotolo, iSchool professor of practice and a judge at the event, values the partnership with NASA and the collaboration the event created among students. “Opportunities for us to get together and work hack-a-thon style is incredible and always encouraged at the iSchool.  It’s perfect to partner NASA and the NEXIS lab here where we are working with emerging technology, to do this event,” said Rotolo.