If you see an 8-foot wide red weather balloon floating on the horizon during your commute tomorrow, don’t worry. You haven’t been transported into a Nena music video shoot. As we previously reported, DARPA will be deploying ten weather balloons across the United States as part of its Network Challenge, with $40,000 at stake.
A number of organizations have expressed an interest in putting up fake balloons tomorrow. So if you see a red balloon, here are a few tips to make sure you’ve identified a verified balloon. First, approach the balloon, making note of its number: authentic DARPA balloons will be accompanied by DARPA officials carrying appropriate credentials. Take photographs of the balloon, DARPA official, and the credentials if you can manage it: by providing proof of authenticity, your information is more likely to be trustworthy. Plus, if your camera includes GPS coordinates in its metadata, you can provide an additional form of locative verification if the team needs to double-check the coordinates.
If you have a GPS device, copy down the coordinates. Otherwise, write down the nearest cross streets and then follow the simple instructions at Lifehacker to display GPS coordinates using Google Maps. Coordinates within a mile of the balloon’s location will be accepted, so you don’t need to be exact, just close. Now, you’ll probably need to convert the coordinates into degree-minute-second (DD-MM-SS) format, which can be accomplished using this java applet.
Finally, send your information to some of the many groups engaged in the hunt. As DARPA Director Regina Dugan explained at UCLA’s celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Internet, this task is much simpler today than it would have been in 1969. But that doesn’t make it easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Happy hunting to all the teams involved in the challenge.