MIT-based team wins DARPA's Red Balloon Challenge, demonstrates power of social networks (and cold hard cash)

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DARPA would have you believe that it's the brilliance of modern day social networks that led an MIT-based team to win its red balloon challenge this weekend, and while there's no doubt that the presence of the internet assisted in the locating of ten randomly placed floating objects, we're crediting the bright minds at the university for their strategy of soliciting team mates. The challenge was constructed in order to "see whether social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter should be seen as credible sources of information," not to mention investigate new ways to react to various threats that need instant attention. Less than nine hours after the contest began, MIT's team had deflated the hopes of around 4,000 other teams by finding all ten, though it's hard to say exactly how many members were out looking. You see -- MIT established a website that promised hundreds, even thousands of dollars to individuals who sent in the correct coordinates of balloons, noting that the $40,000 in prize money would be graciously distributed should their efforts lead to a win. DARPA may call it a triumph of the information superhighway; we're calling it victory in numbers.
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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced that the MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team won the $40,000 cash prize in the DARPA Network Challenge, a competition that required participants to locate 10 large, red balloons at undisclosed locations across the United States. The MIT team received the prize for being the first to identify the locations of all 10 balloons.

"The Challenge has captured the imagination of people around the world, is rich with scientific intrigue, and, we hope, is part of a growing 'renaissance of wonder' throughout the nation," said DARPA director, Dr. Regina E. Dugan. "DARPA salutes the MIT team for successfully completing this complex task less than 9 hours after balloon launch."

DARPA announced the Network Challenge to mark the 40th anniversary of the ARPANet, pre-cursor to today's Internet, to explore how broad-scope problems can be tackled using social networking tools. The Challenge explores basic research issues such as mobilization, collaboration, and trust in diverse social networking constructs and could serve to fuel innovation across a wide spectrum of applications.

DARPA plans to meet with teams to review the approaches and strategies used to build networks, collect information, and participate in the Challenge.

DARPA is the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense (DoD). The Agency manages and directs research and development projects for DoD and pursues research and technology where the risk and payoff are both very high and where success may provide dramatic advances in support of military missions.
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