MIT grabs DARPA's Great Red Balloon Hunt prize

DARPA Challenge took MIT team only nine hours to win

DARPA's little red ballons
Almost as soon as it was launched, in only nine hours in fact, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) 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.

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"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 in a statement.

DARPA last month offered up the rather interesting challenge: find and plot 10 red weather balloons scattered at undisclosed locations across the country.  The first person or team to identify the location of all the balloons and enter them on the challenge Web site will win a $40,000 cash prize. 

According ton the agency, the balloons were in readily accessible locations, visible from nearby roadways and accompanied by DARPA representatives. All balloons are scheduled to go on display at all locations at 10:00AM (ET) until approximately 4:00 PM  on Saturday, December 5, 2009. Should weather or technical difficulties arise with the launch, the display will be delayed until Sunday, December 6 or later, depending on conditions. If, for any reason, the balloon is displayed in one location then moved to a second location, either location will be accepted. 

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Entrants were required to register and submit entries on the event website. Latitudes and longitudes are entered in degree-minute-second (DDD-MM-SS) format as explained on the website Coordinates must be entered with an error of less than one arc-minute to be accepted. 

The DARPA Network Challenge is designed to mark the 40th anniversary of the Internet. "It is fitting for DARPA to announce this competition on the anniversary of the day that the first message was sent over the ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet," said Dr. Regina E. Dugan, who made the announcement at a conference celebrating the anniversary. "In the 40 years since this breakthrough, the Internet has become an integral part of society and the global economy. The DARPA Network Challenge explores the unprecedented ability of the Internet to bring people together to solve tough problems." 

This is the latest example of DARPA's interest in reaching nontraditional sources of ideas and talent. The Grand Challenge competitions were started in 2004 to foster the development of autonomous robotic vehicle technology for use on the battlefield. The competition model for stimulating technological development enabled significant strides that will someday keep our men and women in uniform out of harm's way. 

DARPA has held a number of challenges including  one that featured robot cars and another that seeks to develop  lunar spacecraft

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