Jan. 21, 2020

Schulich engineers takes top space prize, entire planet wins

Asteroid detecting software takes UCalgary team to top spot at CSA Space Apps Challenge 2019
Pixel Heroes
Pixel Heroes Team presenting to the local jury in Calgary on October 20, 2019. Wajeeha Hass

Technically, we’ll all be winners if Team Pixel Heroes is successful in protecting the planet Earth from rogue asteroids and comets.

But for now, the celebration is focused on the trio from the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering, who capped a busy 2019 as overall winner of the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) annual Space Apps Challenge, part of NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge.

Pixel Heroes, as Parnia Shokri, Bahareh Yekkehkhany and Amin Zadeh are known, proposed an app using computer-vision algorithms to spot miniscule changes in images of space, as captured by Canada's Space Surveillance Telescope, NEOSSat.

As the team’s software repeatedly scans images of space for anything new or out of place, objects that present a threat to Earth – be it an asteroid or comet – should be spotted well in advance, giving Earth plenty of time to react.

"We designed a software based on computer-vision algorithms to find these objects in images. It's open source and user friendly. There's a graphical user interface. With just one click people can load a data set and detect asteroids and comets," Shokri told CBC Radio in an interview late last year.

Parnia is an electrical and computer engineering student, Bahareh is a geomatics engineering student, and Amin is an electrical and computer engineering graduate now working outside of the university.

The CSA called the engineering team’s idea an “inspiring and innovative solution to the NEOSSat challenge”. 

In Feburary, Team Pixel Heroes will present their award winning, planet-saving solution to the CSA’s president and technical teams.