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Philippine Team Triumphs at NASA’s COVID-19 Space Apps Challenge

The team developed an app that forecasts the outcome of lockdowns on a country’s economy and environment.
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A team from the Philippines took top honors at a special COVID-19 edition of the prestigious Space Apps Challenge organized by the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

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Team Cirrolytix’s GIDEON project won for Best Use of Data at the hackathon, where participants were asked to “integrate various Earth Observation-derived features with available socio-economic data in order to discover or enhance our understanding of COVID-19 impacts.”

GIDEON stands for “Global Impact Detection from Emitted Light, Onset of COVID-19, and Nitrogen Dioxide or G.I.D.E.O.N,” which uses Earth observation, in-country economic data, human mobility data, and global infection case count to integrate public policy information and measure the impact of COVID-19.

Team GIDEON essentially developed "a multicountry solution for nowcasting GDP (gross domestic product), measuring economic recovery alongside environmental impact and pandemic management."

The developers behind Team Gideon—Helen Mary Barrameda, Kristel Joyce Zapata, Nick Tobia, Theresa Rosario Tan, and Miguel Oscar Castelo—assessed five countries based on the criteria above: Japan, Singapore, Philippines, Sweden, and Italy.

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“Overall we feel that Singapore and Japan seem to be the ideal templates to follow as they have contained COVID cases while restarting their economy with the least damage to the environment,” the team said.

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Members of Team GIDEON said they used data sources “that are updated more frequently than traditional GDP indicators. We used VIIRS night light and Sentinel-5P Offline Nitrogen Dioxide for satellite image data then interspersed it with historical GDP of countries from Trading Economics, Google's mobility data of people in various areas (we focused on residential in particular), and COVID-19 growth.” 

Two other teams from the Philippines were finalists at this year’s Space Apps Challenge hackathon: Team Celestial Snails aims, which addressed mental health issues brought about by isolation during the pandemic; and Team Sentinellium, which makes use of user data sent through SMS and chat, and space assets like population density, urbanization, and aerosol to provide a more accurate prediction of developing epidemics.

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This isn’t the first time a homegrown team triumphed in NASA’s global hackathon. Last year, Team Cirrolytix’s Project Aedes, which used data to help improve public health response against dengue in the Philippines, also triumphed in the Best Use of Data category. And in 2018, an app called ISDApp was also named winner.

After the COVID-19 edition, the main Space Apps Competition this year is scheduled to take place in October.

The COVID-19 edition of the SPace Apps Challenge was organized by NASA together with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Canadian Space Agency (CSA), National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), and the European Space Agency (ESA).

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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