Tampa Hackerspace gears up for Space Apps Challenge

Would you like to help people calculate their risk of contracting COVID-19? Assist others who want to conserve energy through solar power? Develop an educational game for middle schoolers, where they try to keep an avatar healthy on a round trip to Mars? Or come up with a crop production system to provide food during long-term space exploration?

If so, you’ll want to check out the NASA Space Apps Challenge October 2-3. The international hackathon, includes all of these projects and quite a few more. If you’d rather come up with your own, you can do that too, but “those challenges are not eligible for global judging,” notes local organizer Bill Shaw.

This is the fifth year Tampa has participated in the 10-year-old hackathon, and the second time it’s been held virtually.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make it a fun and enjoyable time for everybody,” says Shaw, president of Tampa Hackerspace, the local hosting agency. “We want you to come away super excited and ready to do it in person next near.”

Originally planned as a hybrid event this year, global organizers elected to make the event virtual because of the severity of the COVID outbreak, he says.

“Teams can do whatever they want. We just cannot provide them a physical venue,” Shaw adds.

Teams will be provided “contactless resources” and can work with computer-generated models, which can be printed in 3D by volunteers at Hackerspace, he says.

As the event is approaching soon, Shaw advises interested individuals to sign up, even if they aren’t absolutely sure they’ll be participating.

“If they change their mind, it’s easier to change it to ‘no’ than at the last minute change it to ‘yes’,” he explains. “It’s free.”

The event usually draws some 45 to 50 participants in Tampa; last year it drew 20 to the virtual event. It is intended for people of various age group and talents, including the technologically savvy and the creative, families, and youth groups. Youths must have a parent, group leader, or other adult responsible their activities.

“Teams are actually better for it if they can have creative types,” Shaw points out.

What sets the Tampa hackathon apart is that it’s hosted by Tampa Hackerspace, a private non-profit institution, rather than a university, Shaw says.

Universities tend toward software-related challenges while Hackerspace has the capabilities for hardware and electronic-related projects like a 3D-printed model rocket.

The challenge will kick off at 9 a.m. October 2, however, experts will be available to answer questions on the challenges beginning at 9 a.m. Oct. 1. Projects must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. October 3.

Three judges, including one from the local startup community, one from the sponsor Hillsborough Community College InLab, and one from Hackerspace, will evaluate the Tampa entries developed by teams usually composed of two to six members. 

Two local teams will be chosen to proceed to global competition, giving them broader recognition. Just competing in the challenge gives participants greater exposure to the local startup community and an opportunity to potentially develop a business product.

“Everyone that registers is getting a swag bag from sponsors and from us,” Shaw adds.

NASA’s goal for the hackathon is to share its data and get people to use it. For Hackerspace, it’s an outreach activity “to get people locally engaged,” Shaw says.

To learn more about the hackathon, visit the Space Apps Challenge website.
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Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. Now a wife and mother, Cheryl discovered her love of writing as a child when she became enthralled with Nancy Drew mysteries. She earned her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Sociology from Loyola University in New Orleans. While working at Loyola's Personnel Office, she discovered her passion for helping others find jobs. A Miami native, Cheryl moved to the Temple Terrace area in 1985 to work for the former Tampa Tribune