Social Networkers To Hunt Weather Balloons In DARPA Contest


Starting Dec. 5, hundreds of contestants will embark on a DARPA-sponsored race to find 10 floating, 8-foot-in-diameter weather balloons distributed throughout the U.S with a $40,000 prize as the carrot.

The contest, known as the DARPA Network Challenge, has thus far more than 300 teams who have signed up in hopes of winning. The first team to detect the locations of 10 weather balloons spread across the country on Saturday wins the contest, and the winners get to take home a $40,000 cash prize while helping DARPA with its research.

But there's more to the race than a game of "chase the balloon." Above all, the Network Challenge commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Internet, which had its origins as a military project funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA's predecessor.

DARPA, a Pentagon-related agency that grandfathered what is now the Web, sponsored the contest in an effort to study the effects of the Internet and social networking on group dynamics. DARPA plans to use the participating teams' as subjects in order to study group behavior and capture the innovation, logic and creativity used in group problem solving.

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"It is fitting for DARPA to announce this competition on the anniversary of the day that the first message was sent over the ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet," said Regina Dugan, DARPA's director, in a statement. "In the 40 years since this breakthrough, the Internet has become an integral part of society and the global economy. The DARPA Network Challenge explores the unprecedented ability to of the Internet to bring people together to solve tough problems."

DARPA Network Challenge teams will work collaboratively using the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones and other forms of technology and communications as tools to track the balloons.

The contestants will be stationed in easy-to-access locations to spot the weather balloons from nearby roads. The balloons will be floated into their positions at 10 a.m. on Dec. 5 and be taken down 4 p.m. local time.

Contestants will have until noon EST Dec. 14 to provide the exact longitudes and latitudes of the balloons. No one will be required to become airborne to find the balloons.