USAID released RFP for Challenge Support Services for a Wildlife Trafficking Technology Challenge

Issuance Date: April 23, 2014
Questions Due: May 8, 2014 – 1:00pm EST
Responses Due: May 13, 2014 (Estimated)
Closing Date and Time: June 5, 2014 – 2:00 pm EST


Subject: Request for Proposal (RFP) No. AID-SOL-OAA-14-000051


Dear Prospective Offerors,


The United States Government, represented by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is seeking professional services to launch a variety of technology challenges, designed to stimulate the creation of scientific and technological solutions for eventual development and deployment in combatting wildlife trafficking. The vendor will be expected to provide limited support to accelerate the scale-up of promising ideas and solutions through targeted activities that bring innovators in contact with potential donors, investors and users of the technology as outlined in the Statement of Work.


Please ensure registration in the System for Award Management (SAM) is current and up to date. SAM can be accessed at


All questions concerning this RFP shall be submitted via e-mail to Veronica Bates-Shields at, no later than 1pm EST on May 8, 2014. Responses to questions received may be provided to all potential contractors by COB May 13, 2014.


Submission of Proposals: Hand delivery of proposals will not be accepted. Proposals shall be submitted by June 5, 2014 by 2pm EST via e-mail to in two separate volumes as outlined in Section L of this RFP. Responses to this RFP shall include the information that is also outlined in Section L of this RFP. Electronic proposals must be received by the stated closing date and time, or will not be considered in evaluation. Your proposal must include and will be evaluated based on the following criteria (as outlined in Section M):


1. Technical Approach/Capability
2. Management Capacity/Key Personnel
3. Past Performance
4. Proposed Cost


This RFP in no way obligates the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to award a contract, nor does it commit USAID to pay any costs incurred in the preparation and submission of proposals.




Stephanie Fugate
Contracting Officer


Space, The Final Email Frontier

Do you ever find yourself hitting “send” on an email and wondering if it’ll arrive in the recipient’s inbox?

Sending email has become so ubiquitous, simple and nearly instantaneous that we may take it for granted.

In reality, sending an email is a very complex process.

Does the diagram above give you a headache? Yeah, me too.


Now imagine how much more complex it would be if you’re sending an email from Earth to theInternational Space Station (ISS).

The ISS orbits the Earth at a height of 230 miles (370 km) at a speed of 4.791 miles per second (7.71 km/s).

It’s moving fast, like really fast.

Astronauts, Cosmonauts and Space Cadets (ok, we made the last one up) need email too.
Astronauts, Cosmonauts and Space Cadets (ok, we made the last one up) need email too.


Currently the ISS has email – but there are some challenges. The current system operates over TCP/IP (regular old internet) on links that are time delayed and frequently disrupted due to the structure of the ISS blocking the transmission of data or by the handover of communication between the various ground installations to communication satellites (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System: TDRSS) and eventually on to the ISS.

The combination of delay and disruptions causes Microsoft Outlook to frequently have problems and become unusable, particularly when sending emails with large attachments, such as pictures or videos.

Here’s how NASA needs your help – we need to integrate the ION Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) implementation of Bundle Protocol (BP) with Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange Server to support the transfer of astronaut email to/from the International Space Station (ISS).

Are you up for the challenge? Our first contest opens for registration today. To learn more about this project, please visit

Live long and prosper,
@rsial – Rashid Sial

P.S. Did you know the ISS has an observation deck called the cupola? It bears a strikingly awesome resemblance to the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon.

P.P.S. I know mixing Star Trek & Star Wars is a geek faux pas. Apologies.

The $5 Million Georgetown University Energy Prize Aims to Change The Way Communities Use Energy

This morning, Georgetown University announced a $5 million prize to the community that can come up with the best program to reduce energy consumption over the next couple of years. The Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP) will be available to any one of the 8,892 U.S. communities hosting a population of between 5,000 and 250,000 residents. That’s 65% of America’s cities and towns.

The prize was the brainstorm of Georgetown physics professor, Dr. Francis Slakey. Dr. Slakey is a man who aims high. One can discern that pretty readily from his most recent book, To The Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes. In younger days, his mission was to climb the highest mountain on each continent and surf each of the world’s oceans

The Challenge Of Energy Efficiency

Now the Georgetown University Ph.D. physicist has his sights set on a new and perhaps more daunting challenge: how to address the global energy and environmental challenges we face on this planet.  Slakey recently conceived of the energy prize to stimulate innovation and competition in applying efficient practices and technologies.  And he is focusing on the one level of government that still functions well in this country: the municipality.

The general aim of this prize is to stimulate innovation in efficiency, replicable best practices, and improved education, while increasing the visibility of Georgetown and its partners. The larger goal of the award is to create a meaningful inflection point with respect to the way communities think about and use energy.

In a recent conversation, Slakey commented that he developed the concept of a prize when pondering the issue of sustainability and the vast potential to use our energy resources more efficiently.

What’s the world’s number one fuel source?  Is the answer petroleum?  No.  Coal ? Natural gas? No.  A recent report by the International Energy Agency shows it is energy efficiency. That’s the number one fuel source. Savings from energy efficiency are greater than the output of any other fuel. We are sitting on this vast reservoir of energy.  Energy saved is energy found, and we have to mine for efficiency as expertly as we mine for coal, petroleum and natural gas.

And yet, while the resource is there, and it is highly cost-effective, yielding returns that often exceed 25 or 30%, few people actually take action to make cost-effective efficiency investments. It’s behavior that has vexed efficiency experts for years.

This is what we refer to as a ‘stuck problem.’  People want energy efficiency, but they don’t do anything about it.”

So Slakey convened a group of energy efficiency experts, and they got to work.

This wasn’t all just me. I started about 20 months ago with a brainstorming session at Georgetown – a genuine brainstorming session.  No PowerPoint, no lectures, but lots of coffee.  We asked ourselves “How do you burst through that wall to improve energy efficiency?…What popped out of that was a radically different approach to transforming how America uses energy.  We didn’t end up with more subsidies, tax breaks, etc.

Gallons of coffee and creative conversations finally led to an interesting possibility: ‘What if we create a prize?’

The Role of Prizes In History

After all, prizes have played a crucial role for the past 300 years in helping society solve some vexing problems.  Exactly 300 years ago, in 1714, the British government offered the £20,000 Longitude Prize to that individual who could solve the problem of measuring longitude (the east-west position). John Harrison invented the chronometer in response (though he was awarded only part of the prize money; for a wonderful read, pick up Dava Sobel’s book,Longitude).  Slakey noted, ‘Sobel’s book had an impact on my thinking – prizes can be transformative.  I went into this with the idea of trying to transform the way America uses energy.’

Other prizes have also created change, some more profound than others. In 1863, the firm of Phelan and Collender created a $10,000 reward for patent rights to a suitable billiard ball made of something other than ivory. Five years later, a ‘celluloid’ sphere was developed by John Hyatt.

Lindberg’s famous 1927 non-stop flight across the Atlantic (after six fatal attempts by other would-be winners) was also motivated by prize money – in this case the $25,000 Orteig prize first offered in 1919 – which changed the way humanity looked at flight forever.

More recently, we have seen the $10 million X Prize offered for the first non-government team to launch a reusable spacecraft twice within two weeks (won in 2004). And the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative is offering a prize to drive improvements in rooftop solar efficiencies. The DOE will award $10 million to be split among the first three companies that can ‘repeatedly demonstrate an average of $1 per watt for non-hardware costs such as permitting, interconnection, and inspection.’

Although they can be highly effective, prizes don’t always achieve the desired result. In 1990, a consortium of state and government agencies, non-profits, and utilities developed the $30 million ‘Golden Carrot’ Super Efficient Refrigerator Program.  The goal of this prize was to spur development of a refrigerator that used markedly less energy than similar-sized models. In response, Whirlpool created a highly efficient refrigerator, but the numbers actually sold fell far below expectations and not all of the prize money was awarded. At the same time, however, the program was credited with increasing the efficiency levels of refrigerators produced by Whirlpool and other competitors, and contributing to the national 2001 appliance standards.

Slakey is optimistic that prizes can work in stimulating positive change.  The challenge, he notes, is in defining the prize,

Whatever you design has to be scaled to fit the problem. For the last 20 months we have working to define the right prize to fit the problem.

The goal is to challenge communities “to work together with their local governments and utilities in order to develop and begin implementing plans for innovative, replicable, scalable, and continual reductions in the per capita energy consumed from local natural gas and electric utilities.” Each participant will be tasked with developing a long-term efficiency plan and to demonstrate initial efficacy over a two-year period.

The Competition TimeLine

The timeline is as follows:

1)   April to June 2014  – suitors will submit a basic application (utilizing an existing template): the review team will evaluate and select a group of quarterfinalists

2)   August to November 2014 – quarterfinalists develop a detailed efficiency plan: the review team will evaluate and select semifinalists

3)   January 2015 to December 2016 – semifinalists implement efficiency plans to “reduce their utility-supplied energy consumption in a manner that is likely to yield continuing improvements within their own community and replication in other communities.”

4)   January to June 2017 – panel selects winner of $5 million prize.


New Gartner Report Examines Crowdsourcing for App Development

SAN FRANCISCO – April 10, 2014 – Appirio, a global cloud consultancy, today announced that its [topcoder]™ platform and community has been referenced in Gartner’s March 31, 2014 report, “Use Crowdsourcing as a Force Multiplier in Application Development.” The report states that crowdsourcing “allows application architects to apply the cloud operating model (scalable and elastic, shared, service-based, metered and delivered using Internet technologies) to the development and delivery of custom software.”

Appirio provides crowd + cloud model solutions. Through its [topcoder] platform and community, which includes 600,000 designers, developers and data scientists, Appirio offers businesses the ability to leverage the best application architects and IT professionals to provide greater agility, innovation and performance.

The report further highlights that crowdsourcing models are particularly appropriate for projects that dictate short time to value and require leading-edge technical skills.

 In his report, Eric Knipp, vice president of application platform strategies at Gartner, highlights the growth trajectory of the crowdsourcing industry as applications continue to be developed in the enterprise.

 As noted in the research, Gartner clients report they see crowdsourcing as primarily an alternative to staff augmentation or hiring more FTEs. Companies are finding it much easier to acquire a small budget for a crowdsourcing project compared to adding a new salary to the payroll. Turning to the crowd provides easy access to cutting-edge developers, and results can be achieved faster than it would take to make a strategic hire.

When Appirio asked about their use of the [topcoder] community, customers shared the following statements: “[topcoder] gave us elastic ability to drive our development initiatives and the work that [topcoder] completed in three months was equivalent to approximately 15 full-time developers,” said Brian Bednarek, CEO, MESH01. “Why would any business leader pass up the opportunity to design a new platform with boundless development resources without sacrificing quality of the deliverables at half the cost?”

“[topcoder] helps Brivo Labs outpace its competition and improve customer experience by way of crowdsourcing,” said Lee Odess, general manager, Brivo Labs. “With big ideas and a tight timeframe, we looked to [topcoder] to help us scale quickly with 40 percent cost savings compared to alternative options.”

When asked about the Gartner report on Crowdsourcing, Narinder Singh, president of [topcoder] and co-founder of Appirio said “We appreciate Gartner’s in depth analysis of the market landscape and its assessment of industry opportunities associated with crowdsourcing. While the pace of technological change can be scary for many enterprises, crowdsourcing enables our customers to stay ahead and gain the flexibility needed to outmaneuver their competitors. Appirio is committed to helping customers realize that potential and navigate a future where innovation drives success.”

Additional Resources:

About Appirio

Appirio is a global cloud consultancy that helps customers achieve results in weeks, not years by harnessing the power of the world’s top talent. Appirio’s 600,000 member topcoder community and crowdsourcing platform, combined with the company’s business and technical expertise, have helped 700+ enterprises confidently use technology to increase innovation and transform business. Founded in 2006, Appirio is a trusted partner to companies such as Apria, Coca-Cola, eBay, Facebook, Japan Post Network, L’Oreal, NetApp, The Four Seasons and Virgin America.

About [topcoder]

The [topcoder] community gathers the world’s experts in design, development and data science to work on interesting and challenging problems for fun and reward. The community helps members improve their skills, demonstrate and gain reward for their expertise, and provide the industry with objective insight on new and emerging technologies.


Deadly Space Rocks! Help NASA Save the Earth This Weekend

Does the thought of an asteroid falling out of the sky keep you up at night? Although an asteroid is unlikely to hit any time soon, such an impact could instantly destroy our ozone layer, destroy an entire city, or wipe out most life on earth.

According to Dr Ed Lu of the B612 Foundation, we’re not seeing these space rocks coming:

“data from the nuclear weapons test warning network… detected 26 multi-kiloton explosions since 2001, all of which are due to asteroid impacts, “It shows that asteroid impacts are NOT rare — but actually 3-10 times more common than we previously thought. The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown [were] detected in advance, is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a “city-killer” sized asteroid is blind luck.”

Well instead of worrying, you can make a difference this weekend with NASA’s 2014 International Space Apps Challenge. This year’s SpaceApps includes a number of opportunities for Makers to help explore asteroids and communicate the message of how important of a problem this is. Start off by learning the state of the art for hunting and studying asteroids. This Thursday, April 10 at 4pm Eastern/1pm Pacific (20:00 GMT) there will be an Asteroid Challenges Google+ Hangout to discuss what asteroids are made of, how they are detected, and how we can model their trajectories in space. Panelists will include:

  • Phil Metzger – Granular Mechanics & Regolith Ops Lab at KSC Swamp Works
  • Alessondra Springmann – Planetary Radar Group – Arecibo Observatory
  • José Luis Galache – Minor Planet Center
  • Daniel A. O’Neil – NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Questions can be asked on Twitter using #Asteroid #SpaceApps or in the comment stream for the Google+ Event page.


The International Space Apps Challenges’ website has a whole section dedicated to Asteroids, including:

  • ASTEROID IMAGERY SHARING: Design an open-source platform for sharing crowd-sourced asteroid imagery—including observations that have already have been logged, as well as newly observed Near Earth Objects. Consider integrating tools to make it easy for amateur astronomers around the world to contribute both primary and follow-up imagery
  • ASTEROID MISSION SIMULATORS: Asteroid missions come together thanks to space mission simulators, physics-based game engines, asteroid databases, and data visualizers. Each application excels at certain aspects of a mission: One simulator is great at propulsion, another provides the capability to create the spacecraft cockpit, and the asteroid databases provide details about the ephemera. However, mission simulations can be limited to a single computer. Though a few simulators and game engines provide a networking capability, they can only exchange data with other copies of the same application. This challenge is to create a solution that would integrate a variety of simulators, game engines, databases, and data visualizers into a mission simulation that is distributed across the Internet.
  • ASTEROID PROSPECTOR: Develop a game to travel across the solar system, going from asteroid to asteroid. You must decide which asteroid to visit and mine next, given a field of asteroids that vary in location, composition, size, and more. A major part of this challenge is learning over the course of the International Space Apps Weekend what the purpose and value of an asteroid resource industry could be and incorporating it into the game.
  • ASTEROID WATCHERS: Amateur astronomers have made many discoveries. Create an open source network of quick-response robotic telescopes that would enable fast follow-up observations of potentially-threatening asteroids. Solutions should enable telescopes in all hemispheres to be controlled from a central location quickly, much like moving a webcam. Ideal solutions will integrate hardware and software, though ambitious Autonomous Robotic Observatories network concepts and methods for building and maintaining the network would be highly desirable.
  • CREATE YOUR OWN ASTEROID MISSION: How would you send humans to explore an asteroid? How would you send a spacecraft to survey the asteroid belt? And how would you deflect an asteroid that was on a threatening course with Earth?
  • MAKE YOUR OWN ASTEROID MOVIE: Create an asteroid movie with real asteroid observation data. Asteroid observation movies typically visualize an asteroid’s trajectory, spin rate, shape, albedo, bi-directional reflection, texture, roughness, strength and composition.
  • VISUALIZE THE ASTEROID SKIES: Creating data aggregators and visualizations of asteroid data can educate the public about the need to explore asteroids and protect the Earth from them.

Sign up for the challenges and start putting ideas on the challenges’ hackpad; maybe then you’ll be able to rest easy. Shortly before the event, you will be able to create Project pages that describe your proposed solution to the Challenge. Then, over the weekend of April 12-13, online and at various event locations worldwide, you and other makers may start to collaborate on solutions to your projects. From there, the SpaceApps website will fill you in on what honors await the winners of the various challenges. Good luck! The Google Hangout can be watched here:
Founder of Exploration Solutions, Inc, distributor of the future in research, education & technology projects. Matthew supports NASA Ames Research Center and others in Silicon Valley as an independent contractor. Matthew is an occasional contributor to Make Magazine and a guest editor for #DIYSpaceWeek