NASA: Prize Money a Bargain for Better Software.

  Government Computer News (01/09/12) William Jackson

 Researchers at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Harvard Business School in 2010 launched the NASA Tournament Lab, an online platform for contests between independent programmers who compete to create software and algorithms and solve computational problems.  “We’re always looking at ways to fill gaps in our technical capabilities,” says NASA’s Jason Crusan.  The researchers use the Tournament Lab to order a program or algorithm for a relatively small amount of prize money.  The first challenge presented in the Tournament Lab was developing an algorithm to optimize the contents of the medical kits that go with astronauts on missions.  NASA developed specifications and 516 programmers worked on the problem.  A total of $1,000 in prize money was awarded to the top five performers in each group.  The best submission was more effective than NASA’s previous algorithm by a factor of three, and NASA is still using it today.  “We didn’t think we would have as high a success rate as we’ve had,” Crusan says.  “There are a lot of smart people in the world.”  NASA also has used crowdsourcing for a way to identify, characterize, and count lunar craters in NASA images.

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