Entries in Contest (2)


Calif. Programmers Win $50K in Pentagon’s Un-Shredding Contest

UCSD/DARPA(SAN FRACISCO) -- After 33 days of painstaking puzzle-solving, a group of San Francisco-based computer programmers has un-shredded five pulverized documents to emerge as the winner of the Defense Department’s Shredder Challenge.

The Defense Department’s research and development branch, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, announced Friday that “All Your Shreds Belong to U.S.” had won the $50,000 challenge three days before the contest’s deadline.

Using custom-built computer software, the eight members of “All Your Shreds Belong to U.S.” reassembled seven pages of documents that had been shredded into more than 10,000 fragments in order to answer questions about the coded messages written on the pages.

“We are really stoked about it,” said Otavio Good, the winning team’s lead programmer. “From the start I said this isn’t about the money. It’s about getting exclusive, worldwide bragging rights.”

Close to 9,000 teams attempted the challenge, which was launched as a way for the Pentagon to find the fastest, most effective way to pull intelligence from shredded documents in war zones and also assess the possible security threats to America’s secret information.

“Lots of experts were skeptical that a solution could be produced at all let alone within the short time frame,” said Dan Kaufman, director, DARPA Information Innovation Office in a statement. “We are impressed by the ingenuity this type of competition elicits.”

Some teams, such as the one led by Manuel Cebrian at The University of California, San Diego, took a “crowd sourcing” approach to solving the puzzles, creating an online program where people from around the world could collectively work to solve what he called “one of the hardest puzzles ever proposed.”

Craig Landrum, co-founder of a document imaging group in Virginia, approached the problem solo, laboriously piecing each paper shred together as if solving a jigsaw puzzle.

But the winning strategy was all about the computer programming. Good, along with two other programmers, developed visual-recognition software that recommended possible matches when a user clicked on a particular paper fragment.

“Imagine if you’re playing a regular puzzle,” Good said, describing his custom-built program. “Pieces are scattered around. You click the place that you want to match a piece to and the computer recommends a number of pieces ordered by score and you chose which one you like the best.”

Good said it took about 600 hours to create the matching program and piece together the puzzles. About eight people were involved in the month-long effort.

“The major thing we did was program,” Good said. “Once we had the program, well, the puzzle pieces fell into place.”

But despite the “cool” new program’s success at solving the shredder challenge, Good said it would be much harder to reassemble cut-up documents in a real-world scenario. He said in most cases people should not be worried that their shredded secrets are going to get pieced back together because “it’s incredibly difficult.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Stop Speeding, Win the Lottery: One Man's Idea to Make Safe Driving Fun

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The motivation of a cash prize to the safest drivers is behind a California man's winning entry in The Fun Theory, an advertising contest sponsored by Volkswagen and advertising network DDB Worldwide Communications.

The idea? Put a speed monitor on a busy highway. But instead of simply ticketing the fastest drivers, the monitor would capture an image of the license plates of the drivers who obey the speed limit, then enter them into a lottery.

The winner of the lottery would get a cash prize, paid for with some of the money collected from drivers who were ticketed for going too fast.

"I thought, 'Is there anything you could do to slow people down and change their behavior through fun?'" said Kevin Richardson, the 40-something San Francisco senior games producer for Nickelodeon and Family Games behind the winning Fun Theory idea.

Jeff Swystun, chief communications officer for the New York City-based DDB, said Richardson "embodies what the Fun Theory was all about," calling him "clever" and "earnest."

For winning the contest, Richardson was awarded 2,500 Euros, or about $3,300.

Volkswagen and DDB's Sweden offices, which promoted the project, put out a video showing exactly how effective Richardson's brainchild could be.

The speed monitor was set up in Stockholm for three days in September and recorded 24,857 cars as they drove by. The average speed at the beginning of the project was 32 km/h, or about 19.8 mph. By the end, cars drove by with an average speed of 25 km/h, or about 15.5 mph -- a 22-percent decrease.

"This is a really positive thing: Drive legally and earn money," one driver marveled in Swedish. "Perfect!"

The contest was tied to Volkswagen's promotion of its new Blue Motion Technologies, which puts more environmentally friendly features in the fleet's inner-workings to improve on things like fuel efficiency.

Richardson said he understands his project isn't going to revolutionize life on the road, but hopes at least some will take away his message.

"Of course people are still going to speed. But if it makes more people slow down and there's a positive reason to do it, it's better than always looking out of the corner of your eye and wondering if you're going to get caught," he said. "Focus more on the positive and what results you want, and not the negative."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio