If you lose your cat, or can't remember where you parked the car, call MIT. Those folks can find anything. Anywhere. Fast. The MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team was first to find 10 balloons at undisclosed locations across the US on Saturday - doing it in less than 9 hours and winning the $40,000 prize in DARPA's Network Challenge, staged to mark the 40th anniversary of ARPAnet, precursor of the Internet.Photo: DARPA
The challenge was designed to explore how social networking could be used to solve a problem with broad geographic scope and limited timeframe. The 10 red balloons were hoisted at 10.00am Eastern on Saturday, Dec.5, and lowered at 4.00pm local - so they were only visible for 6 to 9 hours. Entrants were given 9 days to collect all 10 locations, but the MIT team did it before the last balloon was taken down. Impressive.Balloon locations (Map: DARPA)
According to the team's website
, the main tools used were Facebook, Twitter - and money: $2,000 for the person finding a balloon, $1,000 for the person who invited them to join the team, and $250 for whoever invited them to join. The remaining $250 in prize money per balloon goes to charity. It clearly proved an effective mechanism.
MIT is on a winning streak, it seems. In July, its team won the $10,000 prize in AUVSI's International Aerial Robotics Competition
, in Rome. MIT's autonomous quadrotor navigated the hallways and rooms of an indoor course using a laser scanner and optical guidance and, on its fourth attempt, located and photographed the target, a gauge on a nuclear powerplant control panel.