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Programming Challenges Created for NASA Tournament Lab

On December 3, 2010, the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) met with organizers of the new NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) to create a variety of programming challenges. These challenges include: (1) automatic detection of specific objects (hazards, obstacles, etc.) in color images; (2) optimization of high-performance planetary map processing pipelines; and (3) enhancement of Open Source libraries to handle very large NASA data files, such as 2 GB images.

Individuals from a community of more than 250,000 software developers from around the world will compete with each other to create a solution to each of the programming challenges. Solutions will be evaluated in terms of internal code quality, performance against benchmarks, and integration capabilities with NASA systems. The goal of the competition process is to provide NASA with a finished software solution at a lower cost, more rapidly, and, possibly, with greater capabilities than conventional development methods.

BACKGROUND: To encourage and foster open innovation, NASA recently established the NASA Tournament Lab through a contract with Harvard University and TopCoder. The NTL will enable software developers to compete with each other to create innovative computer code for NASA systems. The NTL provides an online virtual facility for NASA researchers with a computational, or complex data processing challenge, to “order” a solution, just like they would order laboratory tests or supplies.

This approach, often called “crowd sourcing” or “broadcast search,” can improve the quality and speed of software development by searching for a problem’s solution through multiple, parallel paths. Instead of relying on one individual or team, NASA can access many independent ideas that will increase the chances of a successful solution.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: NASA ESMD Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project and the NASA ESMD Enabling Technology Development and Demonstration Project

Contact: Terry Fong

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