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Communications of the ACM


Bursting a Few Balloons Regarding the Famous DARPA Red Balloon Challenge

red and white balloons in flight

Credit: Getty Images

It is approximately 50 years since the first appearance of the ARPAnet, the predecessor to the now ubiquitous Internet. It is timely to reflect back on the DARPA Network Challenge (also known as the Red Balloon Challenge) in 2009 in honor of the 40th anniversary of the first remote log-in to the ARPANet on October 29, 1969. The results of that competition were reported in Communications2 but some important details have not previously been reported.

Teams had to find 10 red weather balloons deployed at undisclosed locations across the continental U.S. The first team to correctly identify the locations of all 10 would win a $40,000 prize. It was intended to explore how the Internet and social networking could be used to solve a distributed, time-critical, geo-location problem.


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