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Make for the Planet with Conservation X Labs and the Earth Optimism Summit!

Invasive species, overfishing, ocean plastics, wildlife tracking, and measuring ecosystem services, are some of the most daunting challenges in conservation.While these challenges require a combination of social, commercial, and regulatory cooperation to address, they can also be tackled through technological innovation, which can bypass some of the largest hurdles to implementing practical, timely solutions.

On April 21, 2017, 18 teams of conservationists, technologists, makers, and hardware hackers will gather in Washington DC and tackle five conservation challenges selected by a panel of experts at the Make for the Planet, part of the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit. Over three days, teams will work to develop prototypes, strategic frameworks, and model systems that address specific issues within the broader challenge prompt of terrestrial species invasion, overfishing, ocean plastics, wildlife tracking, and ecosystem services.

The 5 challenge statements for Make for the Planet are cover a host of the most critical conservation issues facing the planet. Participants now have two weeks to dive into the issues, do their background research, and devise preliminary plans.

Teams will work in a pop-up makerspace with access to prototyping equipment including 3D printers, electronics stations, and CAD machines. Local hardware developers will be on hand with examples of hardware and software solutions to specific conservation problems for inspiration and to provide a foundation for the kinds of technologies currently used in the field.

Mentors from conservation, science, and technology fields, will help guide the multidisciplinary teams, which include students from Duke University, Arizona State University, University of Wisconsin – Madison, The Catholic University of America, Nova Southeastern University, University of California-Irvine, North Carolina State University, University of Virginia, and Georgetown University, providing expert consultation and helping participants understand the state of the field and the unique obstacles faced for each challenge statement. During the three-day-event, teams will build prototypes, compile code, and establish implementation plans. At the conclusion, each team will present their proposed solution, which will include physical and/or digital representations to a panel of judges.

Because no global conservation challenge can be solved in a 3-day marathon of making and coding, selected teams will be awarded cash prizes to continue developing and improving their ideas. Additionally, all teams will be an invited to continue development of their hardware and software solutions on the Conservation X Labs Digital Makerspace, a digital platform that is building a robust community of users to support mass collaboration around tech-enabled conservation solutions.

Make for the Planet is organized by Conservation X Labs with generous support from the Moore Foundation, The Richard Lounsbery Foundation, and Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, and in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, Nation of Makers, WWF, and Duke Conservation Technology.   

The public is invited to visit Make for the Planet, located in the Innovation Commons of the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC all three days, April 21st – 23rd.

Press inquiries: [email protected]

[I’ll be serving as a hardware mentor during the 2017 Make for the Planet hack-a-thon]


Deep-sea biologist, population/conservation geneticist, backyard farm advocate. The deep sea is Earth's last great wilderness.


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