MIT Wins ARPANet Anniversary Competition

Using an inverse pyramid approach, a team from MIT captures the $40,000 (£24,400) first prize to locate 10 large, red balloons at undisclosed locations across the United States

A team of MIT students has captured DARPA’s (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Network Challenge, a competition requiring participants to locate 10 large, red balloons at undisclosed locations across the United States. Utilising social networking tools, the winning MIT team identified the 8-foot, red balloons in less than nine hours to win the $40,000 (£24,400) contest.

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

“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,” DARPA Director Dr. Regina E. Dugan said in a statement. “DARPA salutes the MIT team for successfully completing this complex task less than nine hours after balloon launch.”

Riley Crane, who is conducting social networking research as part of his post-doctoral work, headed MIT’s winning team. He has also authored academic papers about YouTube. Riley’s team used an inverse pyramid approach, offering $2,000 to individuals who located each individual balloon, $1,000 to the person who invited that person and other cash prizes to those involved in discovering the balloons.

DARPA is the central research and development organization for the DoD (Department of Defense). 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 advances in support of military missions.