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TSSG wins COVID-19 response prize at coveted Copernicus Hackathon 

By 10th July 2020 No Comments

The morning of 9th June, 2020 saw the beginning of the week-long Copernicus Hackathon Cork, an innovative and exciting collaboration organised by the National Space Centre, Eurisy and the Cork Institute of Technology. Copernicus ( is the EU’s Earth Observation Programme, collecting data from around the globe through satellites and other ground-based, airborne and seaborne measurement systems.

According to the Copernicus website, Copernicus builds on a constellation of satellites making millions of daily observations, as well as on a global network of thousands of land-, air- and marine-based sensors to create the most detailed pictures of Earth. The vast majority of data and information delivered by the Copernicus Space infrastructure and the Copernicus services are made available and accessible to any citizen and any organisation around the world on a free, full and open access basis.

As part of the wider Copernicus Hackathon Programme, financed by the European Commission, this event was another opportunity for experts, entrepreneurs and developers from around Europe to work together on exploring the possible applications of Copernicus data. However, it additionally had the unique privilege of being the first Copernicus Hackathon to centre around the theme of Natural and Cultural heritage.

Teams selected one of the available categories and were then set the task of developing an application of Copernicus data and services in their chosen field to benefit that domain. Working online over the course of the week, the objective was for teams to come up with solutions to help manage, safeguard and monitor natural and cultural heritage using Copernicus satellite data.

TSSG were represented by senior members and undergraduate interns of the Programmable Autonomous Systems (PAS) Research Unit. The TSSG contingent consisted of team leader Dr. Steven Davy (PAS Research Unit Manager), Dr. Deirdre Kilbane (Senior Research Fellow), Manzi Joseph (Student Intern) and Cian Kehoe (Student Intern). Each member brought their own set of skills and expertise, with an extensive background in Computer Science, AI & Machine Learning, as well as Experimental and Mathematical Physics.

The primary categories initially consisted of Natural Heritage, Cultural Heritage and the Effects of coastal changes on Cultural Heritage. But, due to the unexpected outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional category was added for using Copernicus and Galileo (satellite navigation data) to respond to the threats of the international crisis. The European Commission wished to avail of all available resources, innovation and research ability in order to address the numerous problems posed by the global health crisis.

As such, the Copernicus Hackathon was an ideal way to tap into the talent and expertise of scientific communities around Europe. The aim being to support the active process of developing and uncovering solutions for combating the health crisis, monitoring the associated human activities and environmental factors which may have some connection to the spread of COVID-19, along with managing the economic, social and environmental impact of the unprecedented scenario. This category was selected by the TSSG team and battling the current crisis is what they prioritised producing a valuable solution around.

The kick off day of the Hackathon featured a comprehensive webinar for all involved which walked the attendees through the topics, challenges and scope of the event. Participants also heard from various members of the European Commission, Office of Public Works, National Space Centre, Airbus and Blackrock Castle Observatory. Topics ranged from the economic, social and environmental benefits of space for Ireland, to business development and working with angel investors.

Additionally, the day also involved a handful of demos and technical workshops to familiarise participants with the various technologies and workflows that services like Copernicus, Sobloo and Airbus provide. The fascinating and informative collection of engaging talks concluded with a technical/organisational briefing on the next stage of the Hackathon.

The remainder of the week involved the teams working remotely on developing their solution. Over the days, mentors from various disciplines, and reviews of progress were available.

Over the course of the Hackathon, the TSSG team designed and developed a mobile application named “NEAR ME (Visit Local Safely)”. Using satellite data the product would analyse outdoor car park usage and capacities. Algorithmically utilising a YOLT (you only look twice) CNN network architecture optimized for small, densely packed objects. Over time, a profile of expected usage could be built, factoring in many other variables.
Doing this would allow the automated redirection of tourists to less visited tourist attractions and public spaces in the vicinity. In essence, redistributing the tourist population so as to avoid / aid in the prevention of large gatherings and overcrowded public amenities in the time of COVID-19.

The final, awarding day of the competition was made up of a recap of the week, followed swiftly by a series of pitching sessions where each team presented the result of their week’s work to the Judging Board. Once the impressive range of pitches from all teams – across all categories – concluded, the special prize on the COVID-19 response was awarded to the TSSG team after evaluation by the Judging Board.