We're donating $10,000 to the cause

The Groundspeak Lackeys entered the DARPA Balloon Network Challenge on December 5, 2009. In the end we didn't win the $40,000 for charity, but we're still donating $10,000 of our own money to DonorsChoose.org programs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Attention to Detail

Yes. We found 8 balloons. But no, we were only listed as having 7 correct balloons in the final standings. Why is that, you may ask? Data entry error! Oh horror!

Today I had a nice chat with Jay, one of the DARPA representatives who asked me questions about our team's strategy. He also managed balloon #8 in Katy, Texas and met the first finders who were local geocachers. Apparently the second place group was missing #8, so it may have been the linchpin location for the challenge.

When I asked him about the results he indicated we were in the top 10, but with only 7 correct balloon finds. When I asked what balloon was incorrect other than #5 and #6, he responded with the #7 balloon in Delaware. Really? Not only did we have that early, we had a second group of geocachers verify the location.

After checking our numbers I realized that our coordinates were off slightly due to a typo. Instead of 36, we had 35, which made the coordinates off by 1.15 miles. If it had been within 1 mile we would have been safe, but we had the exact coordinates.

It goes to show that you should always double, triple and quadruple check your answers. In the end the wrong coordinates didn't cost us the challenge, but it certainly put egg on our faces.

To end on a fun note, one of the benefits of having such a strong community is that we could verify if some balloons were fake. This was the best fake of the day.

Monday, December 7, 2009

After the Challenge, What Have We Learned?

After a couple of days mulling over Saturday's challenge, I wanted to share some of the things we learned.

What Worked

  1. Geocachers - This was our not so secret sauce for the competition. Our community of GPS enthusiasts already have the travel bug, so it made sense that it would help in a spotting competition
  2. Instant Cache Notifications - We sparingly used the Instant Cache Notification feature of the site to enlist geocachers on the ground. Our ability to inform geocachers of potential balloon sites helped us verify or disprove locations.
  3. Groundspeak Lackeys - I was impressed with the strong showing of Groundspeak Lackeys (employees) willing to come in on Saturday at such short notice to work on the challenge. We had over 10 balloonies at one point in the day.
  4. Social Engineering - At one point we started calling nearby buildings to verify some balloon sightings. This worked exceptionally well as long as you said the right things. We weren't the only ones doing this since some people we called said they were called by others about the challenge.
  5. Microsoft Excel - We were showing tweets on the big screen which turned out to be pretty useless. Drew switched to his computer and put up an Excel Spreadsheet listing all of the information we knew and what we were working on. It turned out to be invaluable.
  6. Fat Tire and Banana Muffins - Beer (Thanks Sara!), enjoyed responsibly, can make a Saturday challenge much more enjoyable. Doubly so with Banana muffins (thanks Sandy!)

What Didn't Work

  1. Last Minute Planning - We found out about the challenge late Tuesday and didn't decide to participate until Thursday. Since a large part of our strategy was to enlist the aid of geocachers, it didn't give us much time to rally the troops. Many other teams had a month (or more) to prepare.
  2. Altruism - In the end, MIT's profit sharing strategy likely made the difference between us winning and losing. We did, however, receive information from Craig due to the charity we selected, so it is questionable whether we can't win with a completely altruistic goal.
  3. Lack of Good Tools - I felt a bit like John Henry during the challenge. For the most part we were relying less on creating an ad-hoc network than using our community. MIT's steam powered hammer, machine learning, didn't beat us handily but it likely made the difference.

What We Learned

The biggest is that geocachers are an asset for good.We need to find better ways to mobilize our community for fun projects like this, but also for good deeds. Like Reverse 911, we should have an opt-in system for geocachers who want to be notified of these games, of emergencies, or both. We'll be exploring this idea further in the coming months.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Congratulations to MIT (and to Geocachers!)

If you have looked at the DARPA Network Challenge Web Site, MIT was declared the winner with 10 out of 10 balloon sightings entered correctly. We couldn't have lost to a better competitor!

Although we did not win we were able to find a respectable 8 out of the 10 balloons. In the end, Memphis and Miami were the two missing locations.

Really, the efforts of the geocaching community were nothing short of amazing. We had several First to Finds, and I expect that the DARPA folks were more than impressed. They now know quite a bit about the capabilities of this army of GPS enthusiasts.

Regardless of the results, the contributions of the community can't go unrewarded. Therefore the Groundspeak Lackeys have decided to go ahead and donate our own $10,000 to DonorsChoose.org programs. We'll be selecting geocaching program requests over the next couple of weeks to make sure teachers have the equipment they need. You are more than welcome to join us in donating to the cause.


Closing down the War Room for the day

Thanks for all your help out there today cachers! We're certain of 7 of our balloons, thanks to your coordinates, but still searching for a few more.

The War Room will be shutting down for the day but keep researching, especially for those toughies. We will be checking in sporadically, so feel free to continue posting here, emailing us at darpa@groundspeak.com and DMing us on our Twitter page www.twitter.com/10balloonies.

Thanks again, and happy caching!

Slow News on the Final Balloons

I'm on my way out, but the rest of the Lackeys are on the job tracking down the final locations. Thanks again to everyone who has helped us nab, perhaps, 8 balloons (though we're working on confirmations!). And if you spot any additional information, send updates to darpa@groundspeak.com

- Jeremy

Team Lackey

Here's a picture of most of the Groundspeak Lackey team. We have already exceeded all expectations for the challenge.

Thanks to everyone who is participating in winning the prize for DonorsChoose.org! We're still tracking down #5, #6 and #10, so if you have any ideas, let us know!

There have been quite a few reports of red balloons. Keep in mind we're looking for DARPA red balloons. If your child is having a birthday party and likes red balloons, no need to send your pictures.

This one was nicely submitted by a geocacher who looked for a red balloon that turned out to be a nice attractant to a cellular phone store. The ones we are looking for have a number, and most have a DARPA flag.

Thanks! The Groundspeak Lackey War Room