KZN pair on shortlisted team

2013-05-09 00:00

TWO young KwaZulu-Natal men are part of a team whose space application (app) has been shortlisted in a Nasa competition.

Four South African entrepreneurs worked together on the “Database of Near-Earth Objects” challenge and developed an app called Cosmic Hub.

They built the app, which is a finalist in the International Space Apps Challenge led by Nasa, in just 48 hours.

Cosmic Hub is one of 133 finalists among 800 entries.

The team consists of designer Thami Zulu, mathematician Bonga Nkosi, mobile app developer Melvin Musehani and software engineer Stephen Kobue.

Zulu is from Nongoma and Nkosi from Vryheid, and with Musehani and Kobue they will be representing South Africa and competing against some of the smartest software developers on the planet.

The International Space Apps Challenge is a worldwide collaboration that focuses on space exploration.

The challenge was for a team to collaborate and build an app in just 48 hours for various categories relating to space exploration. The challenge took place on April 20 and 21 and attracted over 9 000 participants in 83 cities from 44 countries.

The Cosmic Hub app provides a user-friendly platform for cataloguing and sharing sightings of near-Earth objects such as comets or asteroids. It also provides an accurate simulation of the solar system.

The Witness spoke to Zulu about the competition and developing the app.

“Now that we are one of the finalists we are very excited, but also nervous,” he said.

“We have checked out some of the competition and are confident that we are real contenders on this international level.”

The team worked non-stop for the 48 hours it took to build the app.

“We all worked together and combined our knowledge to build the app in time.

“We did not sleep. We wanted to make sure the app worked perfectly when we submitted it to the competition,” said Zulu.

“It took two days for the finalists to be announced. Those two days were the darkest days of our lives as we just wanted to know if we had made it. When we did, we were very happy and excited.”

The team wanted to make an app that helped improve public understanding of science.

Zulu said: “Not everyone in the team has degrees. We were just lucky to have science explained to us in a way we understood. We wanted to do the same. We wanted to show how things could be taught if it is socially available.”

The team heard about the competition through mobile solutions laboratory Mlab South Africa. They also developed their app at Mlab.

The app is not publicly available yet and only works on the Blackberry 10, but after the winners of the challenge are announced on May 22, the app will be available for free and will work on all smartphones.

If the Cosmic Hub team win in their category, they will win a trip to America and receive spaceflight training at the National Aerospace Training and Research centre.

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