The shared economy in space

19 May 2016

Rod Burns

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The recent Space Apps Challenge at Inmarsat’s London HQ was a hugely successful event, attracting over 100 participants who created 13 space-enabled projects – making it one of the most productive cities participating in the global NASA Space Apps Challenge.

Many of the projects were focused around our own planet, offering solutions that can impact a wide range of people – from air pollution monitoring to tracking polar ice movement.

It was especially rewarding this year (this is the second year in a row that we have hosted the London event), because once again we had participation from Inmarsat colleagues in the hackathon. Better still, their project was one of the winning London entrants that has now been put forward for the global NASA Space Apps prize – an opportunity to watch a NASA launch close up and live.

Turning an idea into reality

Inmarsat’s Asset and Investment Analyst, Mansoor Shar, and Guillaume Marrakchi, Systems Analyst, teamed up with Bryan Yap and Mazhar Shar to create a prototype for their project titled “CubeShot.”

I caught up with Mansoor and Guillaume to find out more about how they turned their project idea into a reality in a matter of just 48 hours and what their Space Apps experience was like:

“The sharing economy concept has enabled all manner of new companies like Uber, Airbnb and the Khan Academy to expand access to a wider range of services.

“CubeShot applies the sharing economy concept to space asset management, providing seamless access to satellite resources with the goal of democratising access to space. It is a web marketplace that helps match a user’s needs with the available capabilities of satellite operators.”

What makes a winning Space Apps project is not just the idea but the problems it solves too.

“With a growing number of cubesat operators launching satellites and using cutting-edge technologies for earth observation, satellite imagery is being taken to a new level. The aim of CubeShot is to make it easy for users to access the growing bank of data and imagery that these operators are producing.

“Currently there is no central platform for acquiring imagery or other data from the various operators. CubeShot resolves this by seamlessly allowing a user to request imagery based on their needs. CubeShot then matches those needs with the suitable operators, presenting a comparison of available options.”

48 hours and counting

So how did they build a prototype like this in a weekend?

Mansoor: “There were four of us involved in the project. Bryan and Mazhar tackled the main coding elements, turning our idea into a prototype solution in a staggeringly quick time. Once we realised what we had, we kept iterating and developing the concept.

“While Bryan and Mazhar were diligently coding away, Guillaume and myself tackled the pitching element, developing the story of the product. Through this pitch process we were also able to think of improvements and this feedback loop helped turn CubeShot into a winning idea.”

So who came up with the concept?

“The idea originated with a simpler concept to create a beam map tool that populates spot beams for the current rise in satellite constellations,” said Mansoor.

“The eventual idea evolved over the weekend. We quite quickly started to realise there was a bigger challenge emerging in terms of the growing need to handle all the new supply of imagery and other data that’s coming in. That’s when we hit upon the web marketplace concept of CubeShot. We decided to initially focus on imagery applications, but there is the potential to expand to other services beyond this.”

Openness leads to innovation

The Space Apps Challenge offers so many opportunities to learn and collaborate, and this is emphasised by the CubeShot team.

“This weekend taught us a lot about what is possible in such a short space of time. This was our first time participating in a hackathon and we enjoyed the format. The time-pressure really pushed us to over-perform,“ added Mansoor.

“I learnt about the many libraries that are openly available for developing tools, apps and capabilities needed to solve a problem. I was impressed by the openness of the participants and how members from other teams were actively helping rival teams with issues they had.

“This event demonstrated that openness is an important element in encouraging innovation. I have also taken away a lot in terms of pitching well and delivering a strong story. To go in to a hackathon for the first time and win it was quite an achievement.”

About the author

rupert bioRod joined Inmarsat in 2014 as Community Manager for the Inmarsat Developer Program to help build and grow a developer community around Inmarsat’s APIs and networks. Having worked in the mobile industry for over a decade Rod is passionate about helping developers build amazing things. He also organises technology focused Meetups in London as well as Football Hack Day, a day where software developers get together to build apps to enhance viewing and playing experiences for football.

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