International Space Apps Challenge Puts ‘Citizen Scientists’ to the Test

When a group of people come together to contemplate how to use certain data from space to benefit people here on Earth, it’s easy to assume that this crowd would consist of veteran scientists or elite researchers.

From April 10 to 12, however, anyone from the general public will have the chance to take part in the 2015 International Space Apps Challenge.

The challenge calls for “citizen scientists” all over the world to use those three days to come up with creative ways to use data from space in order to solve modern-day issues.

These people will be provided with a plethora of information collected by space probes and other high-end space-agency instruments to help them “develop mobile applications, software, hardware, data visualization tools and platforms” that could revolutionize the way people function and operate across the globe, NBC News reports.

While the participants themselves may not be STEM elite, there will be experts on hand at the annual code-a-thon.

Astronaut Cade Coleman and NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan will be present at the event in New York City, but it isn’t clear just how much help they will be able to provide to the contestants.

So what kind of development platform will be used to host the massive crowd of innovators?

Thanks to IBM, the participants will have access to state-of-the-art resources in every way possible, even when it comes to the very platform they are building their apps on.

IBM is granting the crowd of developers free access to its Bluemix cloud-development platform, according to NBC News.

This means, in addition to the resources provided by NASA, they will also be able to draw their apps using IBM’s ever-expanding collection of cloud-based development tools.

Among these tools are IBM’s famed Watson Analytics.

Outside of the bare foundation of the annual challenge, the rules allow the public to have quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to how they want to work and what exactly they want to accomplish with their app.

NASA provides the group with over 30 different suggested challenges that fall into four main categories including human health research and robotics.

Participants are welcome to kick off their own challenge and are not obligated to stick to NASA’s suggestions.

It’s also up to each individual to decide if they would like to work in a team with other people or take on the coding challenge by themselves.

Writing the App Is Fun; LaunchKit Can Get You Through the Tedious Part

mobile app developers

Perhaps some of the most popular tech startup ideas come in the form of apps. From tech-savvy veterans to rookie mobile users, nearly everybody knows somebody who has hopes of creating and launching their own successful mobile app.

On the surface, mobile app creation seems like a fun task.

Find a problem that you care about and solve it with an app, right? It can’t be too complicated.

But it is.

Complicated, tedious and downright stressful — that’s how some of today’s most successful app developers might describe the process of getting their beloved app to market and onto the devices of mobile users all across the globe.

Successful app developers will let anyone with their own mobile app dreams know that the writing is the fun part.

Getting the app to market, on the other hand, can be a grueling task.

But in the world where there is literally an app for everything, there is also an app to help launch other apps.

Well, it’s not technically an app, but it does have a collection of tools that budding mobile app developers might find useful.

The website and genius brand is called LaunchKit.

The trio behind LaunchKit knows quite a bit about the troubles of getting an app to market.

Brenden Mulligan, Taylor Hughes and Riz Sattar are also the creators of Cluster app, which gives users a more private and personal way to share content with friends and family.

Think social media without the narcissism often associated with wanting strangers perusing through your vacation photos.

Mulligan explained that while creating the app was fun, there were tedious tasks throughout the process that were begging for more efficient, innovative ways to be completed.

One of those tasks was getting screenshots of the app and ensuring they were all in the high resolutions that Apple requires if one hopes to get past the pearly gates of the official App Store.

While the Cluster team didn’t have a more efficient way to tackle this problem when they were in the midst of the launch process, they are leading other new app developers to a better solution.

LaunchKit will grow to include more and more handy tools and services for people hoping to launch their own apps, and one of the latest additions is a screenshot builder.

“Create gorgeous images for your App Store page in minutes,” the LaunchKit website promises of the free service.

The free LaunchKit service comes after the team had already released an App Store template for Sketch earlier this year, but LaunchKit gives users access to such a tool without actually needing to pay $99 for the Sketch app.

“LaunchKit is the tool we wish existed when we were building Cluster, and stuff that’s helping us manage our Cluster apps,” Mulligan told TechCrunch.

There are only a handful of tools in the LaunchKit for now, but the company has plans of expanding the resources with time.

Other featured tools include a “Review Monitor,” to help creators keep up with the reviews their app receives, and a handy library that contains a collection of “writing and open source contributions” that could help out any budding tech entrepreneur.

While these services are free, LaunchKit will eventually start offering services that may have premium features attached to a free base version of the tool that users would have to pay for.

Want to Be an App Developer? This Milwaukee High School Preps Next Generation

One Milwaukee high school is ready to foster the next generation of tech entrepreneurs and skilled developers thanks to a unique, rigorous new program that will be available to 10 schools nationwide.

The Washington High School of Information Technology will be one of the few lucky schools that will offer the new mobile app development and entrepreneurship curriculum, the Milwaukee Community Journal (MCJ) reported.

Students at the school will be teaming up with major technology firm Lenovo and the nonprofit education group National Academy Foundation (NAF) to participate in the program of a lifetime.

This won’t be any average course either.

While tech students at other schools will be flipping through textbooks or penning essays, these students will be working on developing their very own mobile app.

According to the MCJ, students will also be working alongside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology “App Inventor” developers and will create a business plan for bringing their app to the market.

It’s the kind of program that has the potential to make every single student the face of true innovation in the technology industry.

“We’re honored to be one of 10 schools in the nation to be able to provide our students with this exciting, hands-on opportunity to broaden their knowledge of information technology and strengthen their preparation for college and careers,” Washington Principal Tonya Adair told the paper. “This is another important piece in the strong information technology programming our students can access.”

The school has already been adamant about allowing its students to garner real world experience that will help them make an easy transition into the science, technology, engineering or math career of their choice.

The school partners with local businesses that in turn offer job shadowing opportunities to students.

Then there is also the twice-annual Information Technology and Engineering Career Fair that allows students to network with each other as well as the figures behind major companies in the technology and engineering field.

Local firms such as Direct Supply and Northwestern Mutual have already offered internships to many of the students and helped prep them for their college years and future career goals.

With the school having a predominantly Black student body, the revolutionary program will be yet another step at closing the diversity gap in Silicon Valley.

Time after time, tech experts have mentioned education and access to major tech companies as reasons Black children are at a major disadvantage when it comes to getting jobs in the technology space.

For these students, however, that certainly won’t be an issue.

“Our collaboration with companies like Lenovo supports our goal of graduating more students college and career ready, particularly in growing STEM industries,” NAF President JD Hoye told the MCJ. “The Lenovo Scholar Network is a prime example of how businesses and education can work together to provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s fast-paced world.”