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.
On October 29, 1969 at 10:30PM, UCLA student Charley Kline sent the letters “LO” from UCLA to the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park using the ARPANET. Forty years later, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is celebrating the birth of the Internet with a contest that tests its capabilities to bring people together. At 10AM EST on December 5, ten moored red weather balloons will be released across the continental United States for six hours: the first person to submit the latitudes and longitudes of all ten balloons in degree-minute-second (DDD-MM-SS) format will win $40,000. Balloons will be accompanied by DARPA representatives at readily accessible locations visible from nearby roadways.
The DARPA Network Challenge opens for registration on December 1, and will accept submissions until December 14. The Secretary of Defense is authorized to award prizes under 10 U.S.C. § 2374a for “outstanding achievements in basic, advanced, and applied research, technology development, and prototype development that have the potential for application to the performance of the military missions of the Department of Defense.” To achieve this end, DARPA notes in its contest rules that it “may contact individuals to discuss the means and methods used in solving the challenge.”
The Rules state that DARPA will only issue a single check to the winning individual registered on the event website. Thus, successful entrants will have to find an optimal incentive structure to receive timely and accurate data from the crowd. Even assuming the balloons will be visible from Interstate highways, combing almost 47,000 miles of roadways in six hours will be a daunting task. Verifying that data will be equally difficult, especially if people refuse to share their successes and failures or post falsified sightings.
Games like Vanishing Point and Perplex City have previously tackled the challenge of crowd-sourcing tasks that involve a financial reward to a single individual. Therefore, it’s somewhat fitting that Perplex City developer Adrian Hon has provided an in-depth analysis of the challenges this contest’s winner must overcome. Adrian notes that he is planning on running a similar challenge in London with Philip Trippenbach before Christmas.
Click Here to visit DARPA’s Network Challenge contest page.
Click Here for a partial list of groups participating in the DARPA Challenge.