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Star Solvers: Hugo Shelley


Sarah Schlieder |
July 3, 2019

The NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) has gathered a wide array of inspiring ideas from some of the world’s brightest and most innovative individuals. A few have even gone on a winning streak, nabbing awards in multiple challenges with their creative thinking. One such solver is Hugo Shelley—a three-time NTL challenge winner.

Shelley’s first interaction with NASA prizes and challenges was during the Space Poop Challenge in 2016. The competition sought ideas for an in-suit waste management system for astronauts. Shelley ended up winning third place for his zero gravity underwear concept. He also won the United States Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM’s) CubeSat Challenge. SOCOM used the NTL to launch this challenge through an interagency agreement. Shelley’s most recent win was for the Next Generation Animal Tracking Ideation Challenge—a joint effort between NASA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

“Innovation challenges are a chance to play with new ideas, collaborate with interesting people and potentially win a prize,” Shelley said. “It’s an addictive combination!”

In his day to day, Shelley owns and operates a prototyping and design studio in London. He has a background in physics and philosophy and has worked on a variety of projects, including wireless medical sensors and miniature robots that teach children how to code. Shelley has even worked as an illusion designer for stage and close-up magic.

But it wasn’t magic that earned Shelley his multiple wins. Rather, his dedication and passion for each challenge drives his ideas toward fruition.

“In general, I try to put in what feels like a sensible amount of my free time [into each challenge], and inevitably, I fall in love with the project and it takes up every spare moment I have,” Shelley said. “It’s hard to let go of an idea sometimes, even after the deadline has come and gone. You live and breathe the project for a few months, and then suddenly it’s over and you’re left with a room full of prototypes and wondering what’s next.”

The challenges have also provided Shelley with new opportunities for developing his skills and to collaborate with a more diverse group of people. Shelley has since kept in touch with his team members from previous challenges, including artists, biologists and engineers. He has even gone on to work with past competitors.

But perhaps the most significant impact prizes and challenges may have, according to Shelley, is their ability to bring together diverse communities to combat some of the world’s toughest problems.

“The idea of a global community coming together to solve these big challenges relating to space and the environment seems like the kind of approach we’re going to need if we’re to have a future at all,” Shelley said. “So I’m a big fan of what NTL is doing to support crowdsourced innovation.”

And to those who might be hesitant about participating in challenges, Shelley’s advice is to just go for it.

“There are so many interdisciplinary challenges out there,” he said. “So no matter what your background or experience is—you may be the one to solve it! You never know where the next breakthrough is going to come from.”

The NTL collaborates with innovators across NASA and the federal government to generate ideas and solve important problems by working with global communities. It offers a variety of open innovation platforms that engage the crowdsourcing community to create the most innovative, efficient and optimal solutions for specific, real-world challenges.

For more information, please visit: https://www.nasa.gov/offices/COECI/index.html

NASA Solve provides opportunities for the general public to contribute to solving NASA’s tough problems through challenges, prize competitions, crowdsourcing and citizen science activities.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/solve


NASA Tournament Lab. Image Credit: NASA
NASA Tournament Lab. Image Credit: NASA