Hacking for Sovereign Nature, Pirate-Style!

Space4Good joins the SNI Winter Hackathon 2022 & succeeds with a gamified data collection application

Image 1: Space4Good space within the Odyssey Metaverse

Space4Good is a big fan and follower of open innovation (see the previous blog post: LINK) which frequently makes us participate in cooperative hackathons the Sovereign Nature Initiative (SNI) 2022 Hackathon. Within these 48 hours, we try to work on topics that are both relevant for Space4Good and our clients, as well as the challenge owners of the Hackathon and their respective ecosystems.

Accordingly, we got super excited when the SNI announced their Winter Hackathon 2022 on the topic of ecosystem representation and governance. Based on the particular operations and challenges the cleantech playground De Ceuvel in Amsterdam is facing, more than 30 teams from all around the world signed up to use their creativity, Web3.0, and innovative sensing technologies for nature conservation (LINK for challenge description). Hosted on the amazing open-source metaverse of Odyssey, the hackathon took place completely online — replacing as well as augmenting the physical hackathon experiences we had in pre-COVID times.

Long lists of challenges have been shared in briefing documents as well as inspirational talks about obstacles hindering the uptake of independent representation of non-human life. The goal? Establishing governance models and empowering ecosystems to act in their interests to produce and capture value in their own right. While there are many approaches and solutions to work towards these goals, our team decided to leverage some of the core insights needed bySpace4Good: in-situ data collection!

In-situ data collection is needed to train and validate our earth observation models and algorithms. Without them, we can only share with our partners THAT something has changed and not WHAT these changes are and WHY they took place. Accordingly, we need reliable data collection protocols, collection tools to ensure quality output data. The quality of this data can vary widely based on the experience and competence of our partners on the ground. This is a major concern for any geospatial analytics company, such as Space4Good.

So how can we ensure more and better quality in-situ measurements for improved monitoring and reporting services?

Our idea: let’s make it a game. Not just any game — a pirate game called “Green Sail”! This way we wanted to make data collection and data labeling fun, engaging and impact orientated. Find below our description on the SNI Odyssey platform we used to explain our concept to the fellow hackers and the jury:

Image 2: Space4Good Green Sail Solution Logo

“Green Sail, Arrrgmented Reality” is an engaging pirate game that makes data collection and verification fun and directly relevant to challenges conservation agencies, research institutions and community hubs such as De Ceuvel are facing.

Pirates can choose between different missions:

  • Explore: Physical data collection using smartphone cameras and data entry (e.g. a picture of the surrounding environment, measurement of tree height, verification of event)
  • Conquer: Entertaining mini-games for data labelling and data cleaning in a virtual environment (e.g. spot palm trees, invasive species, land use)
  • Set Bounty: Report on an issue in the real world that requires further explore or conquer tasks (e.g. deforestation alert, garbage detection, debris)

Pirates are being rewarded by in-game Doubloons and Trophies which are thematically connected to the missions they completed. The number of Doubloons relates to the effort the mission requires which is being determined by time, physical distance, complexity and knowledge level of the player. The Trophies cover badges, items and skins which the player can use for their editable character, ship as well as starting island. Doubloons can be exchanged for additional items, which are being displayed on a leadership board and community hubs such as De Ceuvel can decide to use them as actual currency for food and services.

Pirates also gain in levels through completed missions which will allow them to work on more difficult assignments. These could be for example to verify the data labeling or input of lower-level players. As such the game ensures an improving data quality with a bigger and more experienced pirate community.

The collected, cleaned and labeled data is being provided to the challenge owner while also being made available to the general public through Ocean protocol. Here it can be used by others entitled to develop and improve their algorithms. In case the data is being used for conservation purposes, it is made available for free, if used for commercial purposes, the commercial value will be shared with Green Sail to ensure the operations and evolvement of the game. For this, we are making use of existing Gitcoin infrastructure as well of our own DAO (treasury) which will also be shared with pirates in relation to their doubloons.

While initially, “human” led organizations will reach out to Green Sail to form supporting missions, Sovereign Nature is already benefiting from the improved data collection and availability through a better environmental understanding. Ultimately though, Sovereign Nature will be able to create its own missions which are triggered by indexed change threshold measured by satellite imagery (e.g. loss of vegetation -> verification need, decrease in NDVI -> in-situ measurements and so on).

Within the 48 hours, we were able to develop the overall game and data delivery concept, create a blockchain infrastructure to reward the players and channel ecosystem finances back into nature’s pocket, create a mockup and even create our own pirate song! Check out the youtube LINK to see and hear yourself =)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tK3G8Lu7N3g&t=1s

Our work not only impressed the jury and the challenge owners but other teams who indeed were running into the same issue of reliable and available in-situ measurements.

Special acknowledgement belongs to Yannick Zehnder, co-founder of CEVEN, who frequently teams up with Space4Good to connect us to the world of blockchain and Web3. Yannick has a background in marketing and communications but is also an avid autodidact in understanding technology. For several years he has been working in the Web3 ecosystem and focusing his interest on supporting nature with technology.

For our pirate-themed data gathering game Green Sail, Yannick contemplated a possibility to incentivize participants outside the typical in-game item rewards. Creating a dedicated cryptocurrency (a “utility token”) seemed to be the logical step to take. But launching just another cryptocurrency doesn’t necessarily support nature in any sense. So we decided to set up a system that partially uses existing solutions and introduces incentives for long-term support of the ecosystems of interest.

Firstly we decided to use GitHub’s “Issues” feature on the codebase to describe tasks (e.g. gathering in-situ information such as tree diameters). These issues are then posted on Gitcoin and bound to a bounty (crypto or other currencies and “Doubloons,” the in-game currency in Green Sail). We set up a Decentralized Autonomous Organization “DAO” (on Rinkeby Testnet) using the Aragon framework. When someone accepts a bounty and solves the issue, they get rewarded and receive tokens (“Doubloons”) from the DAO. Further plans (but not set up yet) include the ownership of the data by the DAO. Whenever data is used (“consumed”), the money flows into the DAO treasury. The data monetization is planned to take place via a customized Ocean marketplace. By further monetizing the data and alimenting the DAOs treasury, we facilitate long-term interest in the health of the ecosystems of interest. At one point, we envision the DAO being taken over by the ecosystems directly and using the treasury funds to pay for initiatives that uphold the health and wellbeing of the ecosystems.

The experiences during the hackathon revealed to us that many existing building blocks could be linked in a meaningful way to support non-human actors towards sovereign nature. On the other hand, our experiences also show us that there is still much work to lower entry barriers for projects and companies that want to work with Web3. Other limitations include the very high cost for launching decentralized applications that always occur when lots of traffic clogs networks (Ethereum in our case). And last but not least, the situation around energy use of Proof of Work blockchains is still a topic to be discussed. It would be contradictory to use a technology that puts a heavy burden on nature while trying to support it in the meantime.

So what now? We enjoyed switching places with our data collection partners for a weekend and thinking about collaborative ways of generating more and better data. Having worked on a collaborative, gamified digital elevation measurement (DEM) application beforehand, we know how difficult it is to mobilize communities a fraction of the size of the famed “Pokemon Go” movement. But perhaps we don’t need (to start) with such a huge group, but can rather build on dedicated citizen science groups who are already contributing to standardized and reliable measurements, such as on air quality.

In a first step, we will introduce De Ceuvel to existing open-source data collection tools which can help them immediately. Furthermore, we will follow up with some teams who flew by our virtual stand and see whether there is room for joint collaboration with our Space4Good’s typical offerings of geospatial analytics for social and environmental impact. In the meantime, all code and concepts developed within the SNI hackathons are open-source, so we would be excited for a game studio to pick up the idea of combining gaming dynamics with actual real-world impact! De Ceuvel, Space4Good, and many more organizations would be delighted to see more Green Pirates roaming landscapes around the world and collecting valuable in-situ data!

Would you like more information or are you interested in collaborating with Space4Good? Visit our website or contact us via hello@space4good.com.

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Space4Good

Space4Good is our name and driving force: leveraging space technology to support impactful, inspirational projects and change-makers around the world.