Cash left on the table in DARPA contest

Strongest team unearthed only three of seven valid Quick Response Codes, earning a partial prize.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency had promised $40,000 in prize money to the first team to find and submit seven Quick Response Codes hidden across American cities, but nobody will be walking away with all the cash.

DARPA's contest, named the Cash for Locating and Identifying Quick Response Codes Quest, ended March 8 with no single team having submitted all seven valid codes identified by an accompanying agency logo. One group submitted three codes -- the most of any competitor -- and will walk away with a prorated amount of the prize money, DARPA announced Friday.

The contest began at 11:00 a.m. on Feb. 23, without any prior formal announcement. Participants had to track down the locations of the codes, which resemble bar codes, and snap a picture of them with a smartphone to unlock them. The "winner" found its three codes within 18 hours, leveraging social media tools to track them down. The participating teams combined found all seven codes.

"Previous DARPA challenges have shown the value of social media and rapid collaboration," Jay Schnitzer, director of DARPA's Defense Sciences Office, told Government Executive. "That no single CLIQR Quest participant located all seven possible QR Codes shows that many dynamics of social media are not yet fully understood. Analysis of the experiment should provide a baseline for further research into how information spreads through social media."

Schnizter also said the challenge was not announced ahead of time to simulate a real-life humanitarian crisis "where people are required to mobilize and network quickly to hasten recovery efforts."