5 mins read 19 May 2021

NZ Government and Industry Participate in Space Tech 24hr Hackathon

The New Zealand Government, and Satellite technology company Maxar last month collaborated with NZ university students on a 24hr Hackathon, to use satellite and space technologies for innovative problem-solving.

Team SeeReef (University of Canterbury) aimed to provide mariners with the information they need to ensure safe passage, avoiding underwater collisions and damage to marine ecosystems. Credit: Team SeeReef.

230 students across 68 teams and 6 universities in New Zealand on the weekend of 17-18 April 2021 took part in the Geospatial Hackathon, hosted by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) in partnership with global space and data analytics company Maxar Technologies.

Out of the 40 submissions, the winners; “Auckland University Neuro Transmitting Students” aka AUNTS from Auckland University, were chosen for their app “Detection and Monitoring of Floods (DeMoF)” which provided a unique rapid flood impact assessment tool, utilising spectral signatures via a GIS interface.

Dr Peter Crabtree, General Manager, Science, Innovation and International, MBIE said that the Hackathon “was the ideal opportunity to showcase a snapshot of the possibilities that detailed satellite imagery presents.”

Todd Bacastow, Sr. Director of Strategic Partnerships at Maxar Technologies is interested in the benefits of sharing the data from their satellite systems. “Maxar supports events like the TakiWaehere New Zealand Geospatial Hackathon because we love seeing innovative ideas from the next generation of geospatial scientists.” he stated.

How to Hackathon Successfully

Accurate data and analytics, like high-resolution Earth Observation images, drastically help during natural disaster events, like floods and fires. Credit: Maxar Technologies.

In addition to the winning themes of ‘Planning for a changing coastline’ and ‘Healthy local waterways’, other submission themes were spread across the areas of ‘Understanding COVID-19 and preparing for the future’, ‘Wildlife populations,’ ‘Urban landscapes’ and ‘Managing emergencies’.

Students were exposed to training and Q&A sessions in the lead up to participating in the event to ensure they would be prepared and able to deliver a conclusive result from the hackathon.

To minimise the challenges of technological disadvantage, data was provided as a Jupyter notebook to each team and live technical support was provided to assist with any IT issues.

Dr Peter Crabtree, General Manager, Science, Innovation and International, MBIE explained: “Each university also provided experts from the faculty to be on-hand for the 24-hour period, and expert industry mentors were available through an online support service to answer any questions the participants had.”

Dr Crabtree is also involved in the next steps: “Some amazing ideas were developed, and we are now working with the winners to link them up with businesses that may be interested in further progressing their ideas.” He said.

Water imagery on the Podium

Auckland University's winning entry - a flood impact assessment tool, utilising spectral signatures via a GIS interface. Credit: MBIE Science/Twitter.

Second place went to “Interpolators”, from both The Auckland University of Technology and the University of Auckland, for their tool that assessed and mapped the health of local waterways with index data from Maxar’s multispectral band imagery.

In third, the South Island team from the University of Canterbury created a tool to help vessels more accurately navigate shallow water-hazards along coastlines.

All place-getters received NZD $5000 and access to high-resolution satellite imagery and analytics through Maxar’s SecureWatch product, as well as a University “Space Selfie” (one 30-50cm resolution optical image, timed for university site collection, similar to Capital Space Selfies).

Partnerships in Innovation and Application

Satellite image of NZ Parliament House captured from orbit. Credit: Maxar Technologies (blog).

The TakiWaehere Hackathon came about after a memorandum of understanding between MBIE and Maxar, to collaborate on the use of advanced Earth observation satellites and data analytics, space technologies and science-technology-engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programmes. The partnership is jointly led by the MBIE’s Innovative Partnerships and the New Zealand Space Agency.

MBIE contains the New Zealand Space Agency and the Innovative Partnerships program is likewise, under its Science and Technology functions.  'Innovative Partnerships' aims to help businesses that rely on research and development to connect, collaborate and invest in New Zealand.

Maxar is a global space technology and intelligence company owning and operating a sophisticated constellation of Earth-imaging satellites. The company provides 90% of the foundational geospatial intelligence used by the U.S. Government for national security and they collect approx. 3.5 million sq km of high-resolution imagery every day, storing over 125 petabytes of satellite imagery data in their global archive.

“Hosting this event with our partners in New Zealand provides greater reach for participation and creates solutions that have the potential for real-world impact. We’re looking forward to future projects in New Zealand as we continue to execute on the partnership agreement that Maxar signed with the New Zealand government earlier this year.” Said Mr Bacastow, Maxar Technologies.

Dr Crabtree agrees, “TakiWaehere is the first initiative in the partnership, with future collaboration planned in the years ahead,” He said.

What's next for Students?

“TakiWaehere” deriving from Maori language, translates roughly to “let’s all code” very apt for a hackathon. The presentations will be showcased in an upcoming session at NZ TechWeek on Thursday 27th May 2021.

For deeper dives into GeoSpatial, Machine Learning and other STEM skills associated with this article, Maxar and MBIE provided the following tutorial list as part of hackathon preparation, all available online:

Maxar Technologies release imagery to the public for use through the Open Data Program for disaster response.