The NASA Tournament Lab (“NTL”) announced today that NASA’s Asteroid Tracker Challenge, part of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge Series, includes a 14-day Marathon Match with $15,000 in prizes. It thereby threw down the gauntlet to the 630,000-member of [topcoder], the Lab’s primary open innovation platform and crowdsourcing partner of data scientists, developers, and designers. The Challenge begins July 25.
Tracking Asteroids…..? Really?
You’d better believe it. The need to track asteroids is not an idle one borne of science fiction. Ask the dinosaurs. Ask Russia. As recently as February 2013, an undetected asteroid 20 meters in diameter crashed into Chelyabinsk, Russia at almost 60 times the speed of sound.
Last year also saw one dozen asteroids of similar size pass near Earth. These are known as Near Earth Objects (“NEOs”). NEO detection is critical, and NASA has been directed to develop capabilities to observe, track, and characterize NEOs and other deep space objects that could pose a threat to Earth. The Asteroid Tracker Challenge tasks competitors to develop optimization algorithms for NEOs tracking using monolithic radar arrays. The winning solutions must first efficiently determine the necessary subarray allocation required to track all objects given a particular data set, then eventually determine the optimal configuration of the array, as well as how this optimal configuration will change if additional dishes are added.
Several years ago, NASA turned to open innovation and crowdsourcing in order to complement its internal resources. In 2010, NTL was established as a joint collaboration between the NASA Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation, Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science. NTL was a response to the growing efficacy of crowdsourcing. It reflects the strategy of both NASA and the U.S. government to (i) try new and innovative approaches to real-world software and algorithmic contests, and (ii) suggest crowdsourcing as a promising and efficient way of introducing innovation, reducing overhead, and cutting through organizational bottlenecks.
[topcoder] serves as an intermediary between synergistic populations. NTL needs software developed and work with [topcoder] to delineate precise programming challenges. On the other side, [topcoder]’s community members compete in those challenges to meet NTL’s needs and to satisfy their own unique motivations. [topcoder]’s success stems from (i) its ability to discern what NTL and other clients wish to achieve, (ii) its 13-year relationship with the uniquely incentivized members of the community, and (iii) its development, maintenance, and promotion of formal, structured, verifiable, and quantitative contests that produce maximally operating extreme value outcomes.
Shoot For The Moon: The Asteroid Tracker Challenge’s Marathon Match
As the Asteroid Tracker Challenge continues as part of the first phase of the Asteroid Grand Challenge Series, NTL is using an algorithmic Marathon Match. The correctness of a Marathon Match solution is not binary, but rather is scored against pre-defined metrics, including how close the return values match a theoretically “correct” answer, how quickly solutions run, or any of a number of other possible metrics. With $15,000 at stake over the course of just two weeks, NTL expects competition from the best data scientists around the world, each applying his or her skills to shoot for the Moon.