Monday, May 30, 2016

Toronto team “Kid On The Moon” Wins at Global NASA Space Apps Challenge

I have been working with Tanya Oleksuik, who works for a local arts organization in my neighbourhood, on my PhD dissertation research on mobile, locative media. Tanya was part of a team at East End Arts that developed an online, participatory oral history and arts project for Toronto's East End (read more about the project on my blog post Inspired By...Map) .

While working with Tanya, I learned about an exciting project she did as part of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) global challenge "to create mobile apps and technologies that aid in space exploration and help improve life here on Earth". I was thrilled to learn recently that her team had won for their category. It's an amazing accomplishment and showcases the innovation and talent happening in mobile media here in Toronto.

Here is the press release for this project announcing their NASA win:


May 28, 2016, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Toronto team Kid On The Moon is on a mission – to inspire the next generation of space explorers. They were announced this week as the global winner of the NASA Space Apps Challenge for Most Inspirational project.

Over the weekend of April 22–24, 2016, developers, makers, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs took on NASA-designed challenges, creating a diverse range of solutions. Over 15,000 people worldwide took part in the 5th annual NASA Space Apps Challenge, with over 1,200 projects developed.

A part of NASA's International Space Apps Challenge, the NASA Space Apps Toronto hackathon challenged participants to think critically about technology and its effect on the world around us. The NASA Space Apps Toronto challenge took place at Symbility Intersect, at which the judges awarded Kid On The Moon as one of the winning projects, propelling them into the global competition.

"This event brings together the STEM community in a unique way to collaboratively tackle complex problems," said James Costa, lead organizer of NASA's Space Apps Toronto. "With SpaceX's recent Falcon 9 tests and NASA's ongoing achievement in space exploration, this is a great time to get kids excited and thinking about careers in space again."

Kid On The Moon is an interactive app that is dedicated to inspire children 4-8 years old become passionate about space travel through self-guided exploration of the moon both on and offline.
The Kid On The Moon team members and app creators are: Tanya Oleksuik, Huanning Wang, Allard Schipper, Katrina Shiu, Mohammad Zubayer, Nippun Goyal, James Chiu, and Sophia He. This diverse group brought together their ideas, wide range of skills, and imaginations to create the Kid On The Moon project at the NASA Space Apps Toronto hackathon in response to NASA's "Book It To The Moon" challenge.

"Toronto is a city full of creative people actively contributing to science, technology, and innovations around the world," stated City of Toronto Mayor John Tory. "I'm proud to see a Toronto team recognized by NASA and representing Toronto-made innovation on the global stage."
The winning team members will be invited to attend an upcoming NASA launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The NASA Space Apps Toronto event was supported by Lead Sponsors: City of Toronto, StartUp HERE Toronto, and XE; Host Sponsors: Phuse, Symbility Intersect, and HackerYou; and Community Supporter: Ace Hill.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Inspired By...Map

As part of my research into how people are using geoweb technologies, I've been interviewing users and developers of digital media applications related to place. While searching for innovative projects along this line, I found out about an arts association near where I live who had created an amazing online community mapping project.

The project, Inspired By...Map, was created by East End Arts as a way to capture the arts and oral histories of the people living and visiting in Toronto's east end. Soliciting contributions from people connected to the neighbourhood, they have created an online, interactive map of people's meaningful places. Through a variety of modalities (images, text, and videos) people's stories and creations are put on the map of Toronto.

A map of Toronto's east end, with icons indicating areas where content has been geotagged. A caption reads Inspired By, how does the space we travel through inspire us? These are stories from the east end of Toronto, start exploring.

I had the chance to ask Tanya Oleksuik and Cindy Rozeboom some questions about their impressive project.

Glen: What motivated you to develop the Inspired By...Map?

Tanya & Cindy:
In 2014, East End Arts was only a year old and developing our organizational sense of self. As a Local Arts Service Organization, we are mandated to provide support for a specific geographic area of Toronto.

We were wondering what, if anything, actually unifies the people within this area, given that the communities are, as with all of Toronto, diverse and constantly changing. Unable to come to any conclusions about who east-enders were, we decided to examine where.  If the people are different, but the place is the same – what then? Inspired By was sparked by wondering how the actual physical spaces that we share impact and/or inspire those who pass through them.

Inspired By was made possible by a grant from the Ontario Cultural Development Fund.

Glen: What efforts have you taken to get community involvement in creating the content for Inspired By...Map?

Tanya & Cindy:
We have held both facilitated workshops with community groups, as well as have an ongoing open-call for submissions online.

Community workshops have been led by Community Story Strategies and, so far, have included a job-seeking club at Riverdale Hub, a recycled fashion collective at the Newcomer Women’s Service, a summer camp of children at Community Centre 55, and an open public session that toured the Winter Stations in 2015.

Local kids working on their creations for the Inspired By...Map
Each workshop starts with a group photo-taking walk around an area, followed by a writing session where participants choose one image and react to it – either in writing or verbally.

Glen: What has the response been to the project?

Tanya &; Cindy:
The response has been really positive and heartwarming. Everyone has a personal story behind their favourite spots in the city, and most love to share those stories with others. Each story shared adds a new layer to the map of inspired places.

We held an Inspired By viewing party in 2015 and a room full of people listened, watched, learned, and laughed along with the wide range of stops along the map. With a range of creative expressions in the submissions, the audience was taken through visual, written, and audio stories of reminiscence, longing, love, and joy, all inspired by East End places. The evening continued with the sharing of even more stories, including people adding their own layers of memory, history, and experience to the places marked on the map.

Glen: In terms of the content people have created has there been anything surprising?

Tanya & Cindy:
Interestingly, many of the submissions involve memories – the image of what IS brought back thoughts of what WAS. It is also interesting to see the differences in tone and interpretation of seemingly unrelated objects – an excited child remembering hockey practice with their dad looking at a fence, speculations on social change drawn from a crack in the pavement. It makes one wonder how much we “see” with our eyes, and how much is brought to any picture from our own individual storehouse of experiences and expectations.

People are inspired by so many different and unique things. The stories people share about what makes a place special to them reminds us that inspiration can be found in unexpected places and are beautifully unique in meaning to individuals.

Glen: How do you think this map will have people consider or reconsider Toronto's East End?

Tanya & Cindy:
The map is still a work-in-progress, so it will be interesting to see how neighbourhood changes will be reflected. Someone may have mapped a spot that in a couple years’ time may be transformed into something completely different. The map allows people to mark a place and time and capture a memory or moment.

Glen: Is there anything else you'd like to add or that people should know about this project?

Tanya & Cindy:
We'd love for the map to continue to expand. Anyone who lives, works, and moves through the east end is invited to contribute to the project and help it grow, one place at a time.

This project is not only a really interesting and imaginative glimpse into the places and stories of east end Toronto, but also a model for others regardless of their location. This project is a great example of how to use community mapping efforts and geoweb technologies to capture and share something meaningful to people.

Whether you live in Toronto or not, I highly recommend getting inspired by Inspired By...Map.