Random Hacks of Kindness gets a boost from NASA

Agency provides data to worldwide effort for creating disaster-relief apps

NASA has partnered with the commercial IT world to contribute agency assets to developers looking for new approaches to disaster relief.

The third worldwide Random Hacks of Kindness partnered NASA with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and the World Bank to bring NASA data to developers. Developers met at locations across the globe with main stages in Chicago, New York, Denmark, India and Kenya.

“The way NASA was trying to be involved is that we have a lot of data,” Chris Gerty, an open-government analyst for NASA, said. “We have 17 satellites pointed at the ground and there is only so much we can do with it for our specific purposes. We want to make it available to the development community so to make it of use to humankind.”


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The featured application to come out of December’s RHOK was created by a team of developers working in Chicago. According to a NASA press release, the application is designed to access mapping data from the Rapid Response Database in NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer project. The team found the publicly available land imagery then worked to create a better interface to select and review the imagery. Response teams could use this tool to more quickly identify areas that may be affected by disasters, such as flooding and forest fires.

“We are trying to make a connection between the disaster risk community and the NASA community,” Gerty said, “identifying problem areas and mitigating disaster risk.”

Two other applications to come out of the New York developers’ site won awards, including a Connectivity Mapper and another map-sharing application called OpenScribble. The Connectivity Mapper is a smart-phone app that automatically uploads and maps the resulting areas of connectivity, according to its RHOK wiki site. OpenScribble is an application that can create a map with one click and instantly share it with others.

The first RHOK was held in November 2009 in Mountain View, Calif., and created applications that were later used during the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. The second iteration was also a global affair, with locations including Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Dan Rowinski is a staff reporter covering communications technologies.

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