Nampa nonprofit hosts hackathon to improve technology

A group of "hackers" is helping Mission Aviation Fellowship improve the technology it uses to fly into remote airstrips.

NAMPA - When natural disasters strike, or life saving medicine and supplies are needed in some of the most remote and isolated countries, Mission Aviation Fellowship often times sends crews to help.

Flying into remote areas can be dangerous, so in order to continue to serve those countries, MAF is getting help from "hackers" from all over the world. It's all about making the pilot's job easier and more efficient.

Usually, when you hear the word hacker, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn't very positive, but this weekend that definition is not true.

"A hacker is someone who hacks things together," said participant Robert Whiting. "It's somebody that is building something out of nothing."

In this case, more than 20 local hackers and many more from around the world are building prototypes using code.

"It's really a lot of coordination," said Elliott Stoddard, a software developer. "We want to be able to detect fog at a remote runway in the middle of nowhere."

Often times, pilots are landing on dirt airstrips without much infrastructure or weather reporting equipment.

"It would be nice before our pilots fly out to these remote locations to know if the visibility was good on the runway," Stoddard said.

Ultimately these hackers could end up saving MAF time, money, and resources. One of the prototypes they came up with uses a laser and a camera to show if there's fog in the air.

If the laser point on the computer screen isn't distorted then there isn't any fog in the air. If there is distortion it's probably best that a pilot doesn't fly to that location yet.

Local airports utilize equipment like this already, but Stoddard says that equipment costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"When you put expensive equipment out on a dirt runway, out in the middle of nowhere that's not secured, cattle walk by and knock them over and all sorts of things happen," Stoddard said. "So having something that's inexpensive and easily replaceable out in the field will save us a lot of money."

Hackers also helped improve mapping of all the airstrips all around the world utilized by MAF.

"Working on the maps project we're adding visibility, we're adding better marketing so people can see the impact of a place like this, it actually really gets you excited," Whiting said. 

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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