Analysis at 30,000 feet
The first step in solving a problem with the complexity of this competition is a quick, and sometimes dirty, analysis. This is also refereed to as a back-of-the-envelope analysis, a SWAG - simple wild-ass guess, or a look from 30,000 feet.
The purpose of a 30,000-foot analysis is to scope out the effort that is going to be required and identify the major problems that have to be overcome. Each of the major problems is then subjected to a similar analysis. This is repeated until the scope of the problem is understood.
Once this analysis is completed you have a reasonable idea of the feasibility of reaching a solution and how many resources - time, materials, manpower - it is going to require.
I started the analysis by looking at the time constraint of 2 hours, the speed limitation of 2 meters/sec, and the area of 80,000 square meters. Even before doing an analysis, my reaction was "That is an awfully big area to search!". Little did I know...
The Area Analysis analyzes searching the 80,000 square meters "roving area", as it is called in the rules, in the period of two hours and with the speed limitation of 2 meters / second. One interesting observation is that with 10 possible samples a sample must be found every 12 minutes. In Level 1, the pre-cached sample must be located, in a smaller, known, general area, and returned within 15 minutes.
Update 24 Oct 2012
The rules for the 2013 version of the challenge are now available. The time limit for the Level 1 competition is now 30 minutes to retrieve the pre-cached sample. The Level 2 time limit is still 2 hours.