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IBM seeks developers to tackle climate change with open source technology innovations

IBM and its ecosystem partners are calling on developers worldwide to help develop innovative technologies to help combat climate change

IBM is calling on developers from around the world to build innovative open source systems to tackle climate change, with more than $200,000 in funding on offer.

The competition, IBM’s third Call for Code Challenge, was launched at the headquarters of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on February 26.

The goal is to employ open source-powered technology in new ways that can make an immediate and lasting humanitarian impact in communities across the globe.

“There is an urgent need to take action against climate change, and IBM is uniquely positioned to connect leading humanitarian experts with the most talented and passionate developers around the world,” said Bob Lord, IBM senior vice-president of cognitive applications and developer ecosystems.

“IBM is determined to identify, deploy and scale technology solutions that can help save lives, empower people, and create a better world for future generations.”

Launched in 2018, the Call for Code Challenge is a five-year initiative which IBM has said it will invest $30m in over that time. Each year, the Grand Challenge finalist is awarded $200,000, followed by runner ups that make $25,000 and $10,000.

After this, the winner will enter Code and Response, a sister programme to Call for Code started in 2019, where IBM and its ecosystem of partners will help further develop and fortify the product over the course of a year.

This support will include accelerator-programme mainstays, such as access to subject matter experts, technical assistance and help with business planning, with the primary difference being IBM’s size and its access to a global ecosystem of organisations and businesses.

For 2020, the challenge has partnered with United Nations Human Rights and the Linux Foundation, but was originally created by David Clark Cause with IBM as a founding member.

Sponsors of the Challenge include JP Morgan Chase, Nearform, Red Hat, Morgan Stanley, Johnson & Johnson, and Capgemini.

“Every year we have a theme for the challenge, and the past two years have been focused on natural disaster preparedness and relief,” said Willie Tejada, general manager and chief developer advocate at IBM.

“What we’ve seen in the submissions of the solutions is that the natural disasters are just symptoms of the root problem, with the root problem being climate change.”

He added that the winners of the challenge, as in previous years, will be established as open source projects due to the capacity for innovation it provides.

“Innovation is community-based. In this era of open source, there’s not one company that can outpace a thriving community – that’s why all the major cloud suppliers and all the major software vendors have adopted open source,” he said, adding that the collaborative nature of open source ecosystems means competition winners are able to advance and scale their projects more rapidly.

The open source nature of the projects has even allowed the two previous winners – fire tech startup Prometeo and ad-hoc local communications grid provider Project Owl – to collaborate with one another on bettering their solutions.

For example, Prometeo initially partnered with Spanish authorities to test its smoke concentration sensors with firefighters on the ground, but struggled when it tried to deploy its technology in Australia due to a lack of mobile coverage.

“In Spain, the device is connected by Wi-Fi to the mobiles of the fire fighters, but in Australia they don’t have the coverage so we tested Promoteo with the local network that Project Owl provides,” said Salomé Valero, co-founder of Prometeo.

“So we combined our solution with a previous solution for testing in February and it worked, so thanks to this [open source] community, we have two means of connectivity – one for Spain and one, for example, for places with less coverage like Costa Rica, Puerto Rico or Australia with Project Owl.”

Moving into 2020 with continued support from IBM, Valero said Prometeo will be working on a number of specific areas going forward, including new sensor capabilities to detect different kinds of pollutants in smoke and machine learning models to analyse the data gathered from deployment.

IBM will also be providing “starter kits” to developers during the competition, which will help them through ideation and give them software tools to help bootstrap their product’s development.

These were introduced in last year’s challenge, after the most common question they got from developers was “What do I build?”, according to Tejada.

More than 180,000 developers from 165 nations participated in Call for Code in 2019, creating more than 5,000 applications based on that year’s challenge.

For interested developers, applications to the competition can be made on the Call for Code website, which will open for submissions on 22 March 2020.

Read more about open source technology

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  • By opening its systems, travel software company Amadeus is hoping to foster ecosystem-wide innovation in the travel industry.
  • Greenpeace is working with open source software firm Red Hat to scale and revamp its grassroots engagement platform, Planet 4.

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