Out of this world
For most people, the idea of working in the space industry is pure science-fiction. But for a select group of interested techies, students and industry enthusiasts it became reality for two days in October. How? Through their participation in the first ever Space2Health Hackathon, hosted at the Merck Innovation Center in Darmstadt, and run in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA).

This action-packed 24-hour event gave participants the chance to show off their programming and innovation skills using real spacecraft data as well as human health data. Furthermore, they had access to satellite-derived data provided by the FabSpace 2.0 consortium, an open innovation network for geo-data driven applications. Not only that, the hackers were able to meet and mingle with leading experts from the space and science industries and win valuable prizes – including cash, satellite database access and tours of the Operations Control Center of ESA in Darmstadt. And, as if that weren’t exciting enough, the winning team would also be given an all-expenses paid trip to the Merck X-Innovation Summit in Dubai this November!

The Challenges
After an inspiring opening talk from ESOC’s Head of Innovation, a total of 5 teams, four onsite and one working remotely from India, were given 24 hours to develop solutions for two of three possible challenges:

A) Use Earth observation and epidemiology data to model the spread of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)
B) Find ways of tracking the health of the 3 billion people on Earth in remote areas that have no internet access
C) Find correlations as well as distinguish different data patterns of real spacecraft telemetry data and human health data

The teams finally choose to work on challenges B) and C).

A long but creative night
Once the teams got to work, they were able to discuss their approaches with mentors from Merck, ESA and FabSpace 2.0 – and the real hacking began. As it turned out, it wasn’t only the participants that lost some sleep over the next 24 hours! The mentors stayed longer than they were formally required to, and joined the hackers at midnight for a well-earned pizza break. By 6.30am, almost everyone had decided to “rest their eyes” for a few minutes, but there were still a few hardcore enthusiasts wide awake and tapping away at their laptops.

Later on Saturday morning, after a shower and a caffeine hit, there was another round of mentor discussions to dissect and enhance the concepts that had been developed. A few hours later at 3.30pm, the hacking session ended, and the five-strong jury arrived: two spacecraft experts from ESA, a Merck Healthcare Unit representative, an Open Innovation Facilitator from the Merck Innovation Center, and the Head of the Centre for Satellite Navigation Hessen (CESAH). Each team had just 7 minutes to present their ideas, and a nerve-wracking 3 minutes of Q&A, before the jury retired to consider their verdict.

The winners are revealed
After an hour of deliberations, the wait was over. In challenge category C, “Processing health and telemetry data”, Team Pr3Health (pronounced Pre-Health) team won out with their solution for assisting paramedics with automatic live monitoring and analysis of patient health parameters during ambulance journeys. The devices and data, inspired by spacecraft data analysis, are already available for training purposes, and the team will be working on connecting ambulance devices with their algorithms in the future.

But it was challenge category B that delivered the overall winner: Team TeleMEDry and their plan to distribute easy-to-use medical data collection devices to trained people in the field, allowing them to upload vital information from remote locations to the nearest supported satellite for automatic processing.

The event was an overwhelming success. And for Team TeleMEDry, the journey isn’t over yet. In just a few weeks, they will be presenting their idea on an even bigger stage: The Merck X-Innovation Summit in Dubai!