The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) declared the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the winner in a challenge that began -- and ended -- on Saturday Dec. 5.
The DARPA Network Challenge was designed to "explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems." To do so, the agency hid 10, 8-foot red balloons in various locations around the country. Any person or organization that, between Dec. 5 and 14, submitted to DARPA the correct longitude and latitude of each balloon's location would win $40,000.
The event kicked off at 10:00 a.m. ET on Dec. 5, and a mere nine hours later the MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team had successfully located all 10 balloons. Despite the brevity of the experiment, it seems to have effectively examined the power of networking, as the MIT team recruited people from across the nation the find and deliver the coordinates.
By crafting an efficient and monetary-based network, the MIT team was able to quickly track down each coordinate. The institute said it would award $2,000 to the first person to submit the correct coordinates for a balloon. The institute would also award $1,000 to the person who invited the successful seeker to the competition, as well as $500 to the person who invited the inviter.
"The challenge has captured the imagination of people around the world, is rich with scientific intrigue, and, we hope, is part of a growing 'renaissance of wonder' throughout the nation," said DARPA Director Regina E. Dugan in a press release. "DARPA salutes the MIT team for successfully completing this complex task less than nine hours after balloon launch."
Other competitors included the irreverent Web community at Fark.com, a loosely organized group called the Open Red Balloon Project, Harvard University's Project Red Balloon, and a collaborative team from Georgia Southern University and Auburn University known as SpotBigRed.com.
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