The Red Balloon(s)

Ken AshfordPopular Culture2 Comments

There's a military experiment taking place tomorrow, and we're the guinea pigs.  All of us.

At 10 am tomorrow, DARPA, which stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (the U.S. military's research arm) will release ten large red weather balloons at ten different points somewhere in the United States:

"They're not going to be out in the middle of nowhere," [DARPA spokewoman Johanna] Jones said. "They're going to be near places where there is traffic."

She said the balloons will be tethered and will remain aloft for at least six hours. Each will be accompanied by a DARPA representative.

Why?  Well, it's a study about social networking:

The DARPA Network Challenge calls on groups to pinpoint the locations of 10 red weather balloons scattered around the country — with a $40,000 prize going to the first team to find them all…..

This year's contest is designed to test the the way social networking, crowdsourcing or lesser-known Web-based techniques can help accomplish a large-scale, time-critical task.

More information (and registration for the contest) here.

DARPA, by the way, created the Internet, which turned 40 years old this year. 

So if you see a red balloon, and start hearing about them on the intertubes, don't panic.  It's just our military messing with you.

UPDATE:  Okay, I joined a team: the MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team.  Yeah.  Can't go wrong with MIT.

Of course, I'm of little use to them unless there is a red balloon in the area.  So let me know if you see one.  In fact, join the team, and maybe win some money.