DARPA Network Challenge: Celebrating 40 Years of Internet

darpa_challengeOn 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.


  1. I am planning on competing in this challenge. I am still working on the site and strategy of competing but it sounds fun. Check my site out http://theredballoons.com/ just remember its still under construction.

  2. My team already setup a challenge website at http://www.spotbigred.com, we are offering prizes, holding phone & video contests and will have an iPhone App put shortly. And any extra money will be donated to COMPCAMP @ Auburn University to help children with disabilities learn how to use the computer.

  3. There are a variety of different ways to try to win this competition but I’m sure most of them leverage, in one way or another, having as many people as possible know about the competition. Everyone should help spread the word!

    We’re trying to do that on Facebook and on our website:


    Check us out and shoot me an email! Tell me what you think!


  4. My team, DeciNena, has the coolest name, and is offering to share some of the prize pool with all participants, even if they aren’t the ones who find the balloons.


  5. There is an iPhone app and everything for this:


  6. Join the MIT team, invite your friends and you can win money, help
    science, and help charity!

    Find all the information about our approach at


    The MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team

  7. We have a nice team (I spy a red balloon) that is giving the entire prize to the Red Cross.
    Let us know if you’ve seen a balloon by going to
    or write us at
    [email protected]

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