York students triumph in the finals of the NASA Europa Challenge

Posted on 19 September 2017

York students impress judges with their Wildfire AWARE application at the NASA Europa Challenge in Helsinki.

Wildfire AWARE at NASA Europa Challenge in Helsinki

NASA Europa Challenge is a global challenge for innovative solutions utilising spatial data to improve urban living and sustainability. Using NASA-built open source platform WorldWind and open satellite data, participants are invited to develop tools that can help cities work together to be more sustainable.

Three students from the University of York entered the Challenge with an application created to predict the likelihood of wildfires developing in forests around the world. Using historical and real time data regarding wildfires and weather patterns, the Wildfire AWARE application uses machine learning modelling to predict the likelihood of a wildfire occurring in a given location. The data is visualised in the WebWorldWind environment within an easy to use and intuitive user interface.

The students - Vishal Soomaney and Peter Jupp (both third year students in the Department of Computer Science) and Flinn Dolman (recently graduated with first class honours in Mathematics) - came up with the idea after hearing about the Challenge following their summer exams. Vishal explains: "We initially came up with fourteen ideas for the challenge and it was difficult to whittle them down to just one. However, the large and destructive wildfire in Portugal at the time convinced us to go for wildfire prediction using machine learning."

Just before the deadline for their submission, the team received formal endorsement from Greenpeace Russia, with a request to expand the app to Russia so that it could be used to prevent wildfires across the country. This was followed by an invitation to attend the finals of the Challenge with ten other teams from across the world. The team from the University of York presented its entry in front of an audience of over 200 delegates, including representatives from the Finnish Government, IBM, Nokia and NASA.

The Wildfire AWARE team came fourth overall in the finals, and won first prize in the RCUK Smart Cities Entrepreneurship Challenge which took place alongside the NASA Europa Challenge. Vishal commented: "We're really proud to have been able to represent the University of York at such a large event. We're working towards improving our application even further so that, in the near future, it could actually be used to save lives."

The Wildfire AWARE team is mentored by Dr Lilian Blot, Teaching Fellow in the Department of Computer Science at the University of York.

More information about the Wildfire AWARE application: http://wildfireaware.co.uk/
More information about the NASA Europa Challenge 2017: http://eurochallenge.como.polimi.it/

Watch the Wildfire AWARE team's presentation at the finals of the NASA Europa Challenge in Helsinki: