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.