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article imagePentagon offers $40,000 prize in red balloon game

By Kevin Jess     Dec 4, 2009 in Technology
Tomorrow morning Americans will take part in a treasure hunt designed to see how well people can coordinate with each other online. The person who first finds ten hidden weather balloons will be awarded the $40,000 prize.
DARPA, the Pentagon's research agency has issued a challenge to Americans to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Internet.
According to their website the DARPA Network Challenge, a competition that will explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems.
The challenge is to be the first to submit the locations of 10 moored, 8-foot, red, weather balloons at 10 fixed locations in the continental United States. The balloons will be in readily accessible locations and visible from nearby roads.
In an interview with NewScientist, Norm Whitaker, a project director at DARPA said, "It's not really the balloons we're looking for; we're looking for the techniques and the capabilities that the Internet has made possible," says Whitaker."
Whitaker reportedly said, it's a chance for the agency to learn more about how people can mobilise and react to changes in their environment and "If we need to locate people or contact them fast, how would we do that?"
Some enthusiastic treasure hunters have mobilized, reports NewScientist, and Whitaker says the "challenges of cooperating online make finding the balloons more complex than it might first appear. Establishing trust and dealing with false information will be difficult."
New York artist Larry Moss is one such participant who hopes to win. He has mobilized a group of balloon artists to help him in his quest.
Moss says if he and his troupe win DARPA's prize they plan to use their winnings to honour the Internet's birthday by building and flying a 9-metre-tall cupcake made of balloons.
In his plea for help he says, "It’s been a really rough few years for the whole-wide world, I think we all could use a little levity. And that’s why we want to celebrate the 40th birthday of the Internet in style, with as many people as possible. I believe this project is the way to do it. Even if we don’t win the DARPA challenge per se, if even just the idea of this project makes you giggle, then well… we’ve done our job. But dude?! Seriously- A giant flying cupcake! Come on!! It would be awesome! So let’s do this!! Gooooo team!"
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