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Arup in Space

Systems & Tools 27 April 2012 | 10.00am

Nearly everyone has an affinity for space. Whether it be a fascination with the stars, the moon, space exploration, or similar. There’s something about that great unknown, where only a handful of people have ever experienced it first hand,

but a lot of that is thanks to great vision and an immeasurable amount of work; from thousands of people in the latter half of the 20th century.

Australia has played its part, however big or small, in the exploration of space, over the last 50 years. From John Glenn and the City of Light in the early 1960s, and the parts that the Parkes Observatory and Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station played in the Apollo 11 Mission, to the first public showing of the ‘lost’ Apollo 11 tapes only a couple of years ago at the Australian Geographic Society Awards; we’ve nearly always been there, on the sideline, waiting to help out how we can.

As a child, I was obsessed with a book my parents had of the moon landing, full of photographs from the Apollo Missions, giving me an ever-growing fascination with the geography and topology of the moon; and I remember vividly the television being quickly turned off without explanation in the latter days of January in 1986 whenever footage of the Challenger Shuttle appeared. Only recently, I watched Capricorn One which, while more a social commentary on theories presented at the time, still holds up as a great ’space’ movie .

A couple of years ago, Andrew Maher visited TeamX at JPL. His visitor badge sat next to his computer monitor for while – space is a fascinating subject whatever your age may be, although in our case we have been interested in technology transfer from space to the built environment.

An opportunity arose a couple of months ago for us to sponsor challenges in the upcoming NASA International Space Apps challenge, an invitation offered to us by Dr Naomi Mathers of the Victorian Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC). The International Space Apps Challenge was announced by NASA in March 2012 as a showcase project in collaboration with the 54-nation Open Government Partnership initiated by the US and Brazil. The event is essentially a code-a-thon, also often referred to as a hack-a-thon, where groups can get together and brainstorm in a day or two to collectively solve challenges that are presented to them.

Andrew Maher accepted the offer, and we quickly formed a core team to brainstorm some challenges that we would like to see solved. So far, our core team consists of Andrew, Ben Cooper-Woolley, David Young, a Transport Engineer and myself. Other Arup staff who have opted in for the challenge include engineers from a wide range of discplines, including Building Physics, Planning, Sustainability and MEP. Two of our challenges focus on climate change, and one on the subject of activity sensing.

Challenges will be solved by teams with the help of open data; data which includes statistics, facts and other information that is freely available to the public. Teams will compete with others around the world to use open data to design innovative solutions to challenges presented. Participants will be free to develop solutions in the categories of software, hardware, citizen science and data visualisation that may contribute to space exploration missions and help improve life on earth.

Other partners for the event in Australia include CSIRO, NICTA (National ICT Australia), Space Industry Innovation Council. For a full list of organisations, check the details on the VSSEC website.

On the day, we will be attending the event at VSSEC and support the programmers here in Melbourne. If you would like to get involved in the event, or sign up to one of our challenges, look for details here at the VSSEC website.

Arup in Space 1

Arup Challenge 1 – My Travel Impact

What would convince you to change your travel behaviours? Weather? Carbon? This challenge aims to develop an app that provides users with information about their travel patterns, and quantifies the impact of their choices. Users could be presented with a summary of their daily trip (eg. distance travelled in the last week, the last month and the last year) and how their mode choice behaviour has impacted them (time) and the wider community. The app could also allow users to interrogate their carbon footprint and compare this to other mode choices (eg. driving, riding and walking) and the relative savings/cost of carbon and money as a result of their choice.

Users could also be presented with historical and forecast weather data from Bureau of Meteorology, suggesting days to consider walking/cycling based on weather patterns/predictions. The app may rely on users submitting their travel data from their smart card (eg. Myki in Melbourne).

Sign up to the challenge here –

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Arup Challenge 2 – Activity Sensing

How many people do you work with? How many people are around you at any one time? This challenge is to develop a system that senses activity in a relatively small scale location; for example a building or public space. This can use any type of fixed sensor that reveals people’s locations and densities of people, and presents the data back in a realtime visualisation, also offering an historic analysis which shows how densities change over time. This challenge could use a variety of sensors, depending on what people have available for instance heat, pressure, sound, IP addresses, wifi hotspot activity, Bluetooth or any combination of these.

On a larger scale, this challenge could lead to assist police in estimating crowd numbers, help planners to track how many people attend an event, and help pedestrian and traffic engineers to design for changes in a public environment.

Sign up to the challenge here –

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Arup Challenge 3 – Climate Adaptation

Satellite data is helping us understand our environment and how it is changing. This data is used to build climate models that help us predict what the local conditions will be in the future. Large infrastructure projects take many years to design and build, and become an integral part of our society for a long time, but how do they adapt to changing conditions? How can designers and engineers embed climate models into their design process? How can they include the community and the residents in the on-going decision making process?

Sign up to the challenge here –

Need some inspiration?

Download the NASA app for iPad, iPhone or Android:

Dean Morris

Melbourne, Australia

“I provide support to projects with a wide range of multimedia, web-based and digital technologies. I am interested in how digital media can allow clients to interact with complex designs by way of 3D models, video and animation.”

View all posts by: Dean Morris