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Can Developers Save Earth? Can BIRT Help?

This weekend—April 12 – 13, 2014—marks NASA’s second International Space Apps Challenge.

Online and at almost 100 sites around the world—from Athens, Greece, to Zaragoza, Spain—volunteer developers, makers, and scientists will collaborate in an intense 48-hour marathon to create solutions based on 40 different challenges posed by the American space agency.

Some of the challenges involve hardware, while others are purely software development projects. This year, the challenges range from creating a greenhouse design (for growing food on Mars) to developing an app to display the force of gravity anywhere on Earth.

While the Space Apps Challenge encourages collaboration between hundreds of people around the world, it’s more than a feel-good PR stunt. Teams compete for prizes, and NASA uses the products of the Space Apps Challenge to guide some of its ongoing development projects.

It shouldn’t surprise you that some of NASA’s challenges involve visualization and analysis of Big Data. After all, NASA generates, and makes public, vast amounts of data, including more than 4TB of earth science data alone every day.

My favorite challenge this year is Visualize the Asteroid Skies.  Participants in the challenge will extract data from existing asteroid databases (provided by NASA), create visualizations that data, and integrate those visualizations into an interactive website.

To me, that sounds like a job for BIRT. Consider the three parts of the challenge:

  1. Extract data from existing asteroid databases. No problem: BIRT can extract and combine many different data sources and data types into a single project.
  2. Create visualizations of that data. Got it: BIRT comes out-of-the-box with a dozen kinds of charts, and Actuate’s commercial version of BIRT gives developers powerful tools to create and combine those charts in novel ways.
  3. Integrate those visualizations into an interactive website. That’s easy: BIRT is the most embeddable data visualization software available, with scripting capabilities, an ODA Extension API, a JavaScript API (in Actuate’s commercial version), a standalone report viewer, and via other integration tools.

Are you participating in the Space Apps Challenge? If so, are you using BIRT in your project? Please let us know.  Personally, I want to encourage teams working on Visualize the Asteroid Skies. We can all agree, I think, that knowing where in space these chunks of rock are—and when they might impact Earth— is pretty important work. Good luck!

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