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MIT wins $40,000 prize in nationwide balloon-hunt contest

Ten 8-foot-wide red weather balloons across the United States were the targets in Saturday's high-tech challenge.
Ten 8-foot-wide red weather balloons across the United States were the targets in Saturday's high-tech challenge.
  • MIT team was first to discover the locations of 10 balloons scattered across U.S.
  • Contest tested use of Web-based techniques to achieve time-critical tasks
  • Challenge was announced on anniversary of first message sent on Internet's precursor
  • DARPA: Winning team discovered balloons' locations less than nine hours after launch

(CNN) -- A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won $40,000 in a high-tech scavenger hunt on Saturday by discovering the location of 10 red weather balloons.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced that the MIT team was the first group in the contest to report the latitude and longitude coordinates of all 10 balloons, which were scattered across the United States.

DARPA is the U.S. military's research arm. Saturday's challenge is the latest in a series that the agency has hosted since 2004.

This contest was designed to test the way social networking and lesser-known Web-based techniques can help accomplish a large-scale, time-critical task.

DARPA said in a written statement that the MIT team discovered the locations of the 8-foot-wide balloons less than nine hours after they launched, around 10 a.m. ET.

Video: Balloon-hunt contest

It did not say exactly when the task was completed or how many groups had participated.

Johanna Jones, a spokeswoman for DARPA, said the hunt was designed in part to give the military new ideas on ways to operate in a range of situations, from natural disasters to combat.

The agency said it plans to meet with teams to discuss their approaches and strategies used to build networks, collect information, and participate in the contest.

The challenge was announced on October 29 -- 40 years after the first message was sent on ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet. DARPA said it hopes the contest will lead to advances in the way the military communicates and coordinates activities among multiple geographically separated groups.

On MIT's Web site, a link was posted inviting people to sign up to help find the balloons and urging them to invite their friends. It said the MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team "is interested in studying information flow in social networks, so if we win, we're giving all the money away to the people who help us find the balloons!"

It detailed a chain for giving away the money, beginning with $2,000 given to each person who first sent in the coordinates of each balloon.

iReporter on balloon challenge

"We're giving $2,000 per balloon to the first person to send us the correct coordinates, but that's not all -- we're also giving $1,000 to the person who invited them. Then we're giving $500 whoever invited the inviter, and $250 to whoever invited them, and so on..." it said.

It was not immediately clear how many people participated for MIT.

CNN's Doug Gross contributed to this report.