DARPA names winner in shredder challenge

Just 33 days after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced its competition to reconstruct documents from thousands of shredded pieces, a winner has emerged.

A small team from San Francisco triumphed over nearly 9,000 other teams to piece together more than 10,000 shredded bits to solve five puzzles of increasing difficulty. The team spent more than 600 man-hours to develop custom-coded computer-vision algorithms that helped the team put together the pieces.

DARPA launched the challenge in late October as part of efforts to gain insight into the best strategies techniques for triaging and exploiting documents that could hold critical information – such as the “pocket litter” found in war zones and used for intelligence. DARPA was also looking to identify vulnerabilities in U.S. methods of shredded sensitive documents.


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Unshred a document, win $50,000


The challenge represented a prime example of federal use of crowdsourcing, a practice that is gaining ground as the government looks to innovative ways of solving complex problems.

“The DARPA Shredder Challenge underscores the value of increasing the number and diversity of problem solvers,” said DARPA Director Regina Dugan in the released announcement. “The varied methods used have potential implications for so-called ‘wicked problems,’ generally considered insolvable by conventional means, and offer the possibility of increased speed, agility and breadth in innovation.”

But it proved to be more than just an exercise in a new IT trend, according to Dan Kaufman, director, DARPA Information Innovation Office.

“Lots of experts were skeptical that a solution could be produced at all let alone within the short time frame,” Kaufman said. “The most effective approaches were not purely computational or crowdsourced, but used a combination blended with some clever detective work. We are impressed by the ingenuity this type of competition elicits.”

The winning team will receive $50,000 for its efforts. To view the puzzles, solutions and the overall theme of the competition, visit www.shredderchallenge.com.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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