SpaceApps is a global hackathon run by NASA which took place over the weekend of the 20/21st April 2013. Kris spent the weekend at the Met Office HQ in Exeter, one of 5 UK locations this year. Here is his story.

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Arriving at @SpaceAppsExeter

Having not attended a hackathon before, I was a little apprehensive upon entering the impressive Met Office HQ in Exeter. Would I be able to make a worthwhile contribution? Which of the 50 challenges should i get involved in? Are my skills even relevant? These fears soon disappeared as I started chatting with the other attendees.

Did I mention the impressive HQ building? Well I will again – it’s an “outside inside” sort of layout, with “The Street”, which has a stream running it’s length, wood panelled meeting rooms to the side and a light and airy feel to the entire space. Because of security I can’t show you the exact layout, but here’s a pic:

Met Office insides

The Met Office had been running a week long ‘innovate/create’ event with Space Apps at it’s culmination – the place was filled with toys, YarnBombing and lots of chalk graffiti on the floors and walls.


Down to Business

I chose to participate in the Smart Cities, Smart Climate project. My experience as a software devleoper on working with the Dust Data system was bound to come in handy!

Our Objective

We were given an array of random environmental monitoring devices (industrial wireless temperature monitors, cheap homebrew sensor kits from Plymmouth Uni) and (eventually) supplied with data from the Birmingham University’s 21 sensors spread out throughout Birmingham.


Pull all the data together, provide it to anyone via an API

We decided that we should try to pull all of the information together into a central unified data store, and then do some visualisation of it, all whilst maintaining a real-time aspect so sensors could continually push new information, and visualisations could continunally be updated. This also meant that our data could be easily consumed via an accessable API into other systems, e.g. Heatwave monitoring and alerting systems and other control systems.

Our Team

We split into two teams, a Hardware Team who worked on getting the data out of the instrumentation, and a Software Team who were concerned with collating and disseminating the data.



  • Michael Saunby (Met Office)
  • Omar Jamil (Met Office)
  • Chris Hunt (i-Dat / University of Plymouth)
  • Phil Jefferies (IOTA Solutions)
  • Theo McCaie (Met Office London Team)


  • Andrew Poyntz (Met Office)
  • Andrew Hounsell (Met Office)
  • Ian Edwards (Met Office)
  • Kris Sum (Switch Systems)

What I did

I wrote the entire database schema, API, backend code and documentation (the big grey database symbol in the middle of this diagram), and I had to do it from scratch without our Switch Systems commercial libraries because the project was to be GPL licensed!

What we accomplished as a team


Well, I think it’s safe to say that we did enough software development in 24 hours for Exeter SpaceApps as a whole, let alone as a project by itself!

  1. We built a HTTP REST based API which allowed easy real time submission of sensor data from any device
  2. We exposed the API to the rest of the world on the Hackathon pad to Leicester and London teams
  3. We Geocoded the devices that had sensors and collated them with the sensor data they were producing
  4. We plotted point data and surface renders of the temperature information as it
  5. We graphed the data over time to demonstrate the real-time aspect of the system
  6. We wrote an analysis and alerting system which monitored for heatwaves and sent out alerts to the relevant people
  7. We managed to hack data out of closed source instruments to get a realtime temperature feed off of a wifi network around the Met Office building

The general consensus was that this was a phenominal amount to achieve in the limited time that we had. Everyone in the team had different skillsets, and it’s amazing that every single team member delivered the goods on time.

What I learnt

We should allocate more time for presenting our final work. I think we could’ve done a much better job in communication – I think mayeb we spent too long achieving this highly complex fully working system and not enough time on evaluating it’s potential impact and presenting / disseminating the information to others.

I got schooled on GIT (i’m an SVN person normally) very fast!

Definately turn up to these events with your build platform and software tools already configured, and have a spare server or two – without my pre-deployed Switch Systems development server we would have been stuffed!


The live site (not sure how long this will stay alive):

Our final presentation:

Our Github repository:

Our Space Apps NASA project page :

My Flickr photos :

Final Thoughts

Hackathons are great fun. They may be tiring, but they’re an excellent place to meet new people and to get involved with technology and areas that you don’t normally get access to. The Met Office pledged to continue running hackathons at the Exeter Office (not necessarily SpaceApps related), and i think that’s a great indicator of the value that these events bring to the community and business alike.


See you next year!