MIT team finda DARPA balloons in less than nine hours, wins prize

A contest hatched by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), offered $40,000 to the first group to find ten red weather balloons at secret locations across the US.

More than 4000 groups participated in the project, designed to commemorate the Internet’s 40th birthday by illustrating the power of social networking and crowdsourcing to solve time critical tasks. The balloons were launched at 10am EDT yesterday. The contest was originally open until December 14th, but a group of MIT students using volunteers promised a cut of the prize found all ten balloons in under nine hours:

On MIT’s Web site, a link was posted inviting people to sign up to help find the balloons and urging them to invite their friends. It said the MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team “is interested in studying information flow in social networks, so if we win, we’re giving all the money away to the people who help us find the balloons!”

It detailed a chain for giving away the money, beginning with $2,000 given to each person who first sent in the coordinates of each balloon.

The locations of the balloons were disclosed after the contest ended:

The 8-foot red weather balloons were moored at 10 different locations. These included Waterfront Park, Portland; Union Square, San Francisco; Chase Palm Park, Santa Barbara; Chaparral Park, Scottsdale; Katy Park, Katy; Lee Park, Memphis; Centennial Park, Atlanta; Collins Avenue, Miami; Tonsler Park, Charlottesville; and Glasgow Park, Christiana.