Rice science opens doors to IT solutions

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IT enthusiasts-- looking for software applications and devices to help rice farming and research

IT enthusiasts who think their genius can help make rice research a little bit better will converge at this year's Bigas2 Hack*, a competition looking for software applications and devices to help improve rice farming and research.

Bigas2 Hack is open to computer programmers, software or hardware developers, interface designers, and others in the IT industry.

The event is jointly organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart), in partnership with the U.S. Embassy-Manila, Amazon Web Services, freelancer.com, Windows Azure, Google Developers Group, Jollibee Group Foundation, Soft Microenterprises, USSE, and Mozilla-Philippines.

In the first offering last year, BigAs Hackathon, a team named PhilRobotics won the Most Innovative or Special Jury award for their innovation called the Environmental Logging System or Envilog, a portable device that can take actual readings of temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind direction, and barometric pressure in the rice field.

“Originally, I thought agriculture was only about planting and then harvesting,” said Franklin Binos II, leader of the PhilRobotics team. “But through the BigAs Hackathon, I learned the importance of technology for agriculture, especially when doing research. I've learned that accurate and precise technology is involved when it comes to developing rice.”

“We enjoyed our BigAs Hackathon experience at IRRI. After that we got a lot of invites to join other hackathons, which we also immensely enjoyed. That first experience—BigAs Hackathon—has helped us get more connections, networks, and exposure. We're looking forward to the next one, so we'll be there looking at what all the new teams are going to develop, and will possibly support other PhilRobotics members who will participate,” he said.

Bigas2 Hack will be held from 31 August to 1 September 2013 at IRRI Headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna.

“There is a feeling among some digerati that agricultural research is old-fashioned, backwards, and b-o-r-i-n-g,” said Marco van den Berg, IRRI’s chief information officer. “Nothing could be further from the truth! We use state-of-the art information technology that includes mobile gear, cloud computing, high-end software engineering, and we have definitely moved away from collecting our data on paper.”

“As a matter of fact, there wouldn't be enough paper in the world to collect it anyway—and we love trees,” continued Marco. “The challenges we face to ensure food security for future generations require us to work on a much larger scale than ever before. Aspiring IT professionals who want to help keep our food safe, affordable, and produced in an environmentally sound way in a world with a changing climate need to put Bigas2 Hack on their calendars.”

Marco van den Berg talks

Interested developers may form teams of two to four people and join either of these challenges:

  • The Short-Term Challenge, in which participants can work on their project only during the event.
  • The Long-Term Challenge, in which participants can work on their project anytime until 1 September.

Those joining the Long-Term Challenge can choose from any of the following tasks:

  • Salikseeker: Find a way to automate the measurement of parts of leaves that can only be seen under a microscope.
  • PhenotypicALL: Develop hardware to automatically measure features of rice plants, such as how green the leaves are or how tall the plant is.
  • Beras: Improve IRRI’s software that models rice crop growth.

“Once again, we are inviting IT enthusiasts to join us in creating apps and devices that contribute to social good. Tech enthusiasts used to get a lot of ribbing for being geeks, but now people have come to realize how geeks are changing the world,” said Paul Pajo, Smart developer-evangelist.

Smart, through its developer community Smart Developer Network (SmartDevNet), has been organizing tech events that have given birth to applications with a positive impact on the lives of Filipinos. These include Project NOAH Mobile, an app for a disaster prevention and mitigation program developed by the Philippine government; and the Tudlo mobile app, a communications platform for disasters and emergencies.

Bigas2 Hack is a free event, but prior registration is required. During the event, all Bigas2 Hack participants will get freebies and access to cloud-based operating systems to develop their apps. Winning teams will get prizes that include smartphones and gift certificates.

Follow the event live on twitter and join the conversation at #bigas2hack.


Bigas2 Hack set for August 31 to September 1, 2013!

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