Under Hyperloop’s Shadow, A Think Tank is Born on Reddit
Determined to win SpaceX's Hyperloop pod competition, rLoop has embraced the pros and cons of full online collaboration as a means to power our collective future
Not all things born in the deep, dark recesses of the Reddit hive mind fall within the scope of the latest netherworld press release. Following an announcement that SpaceX would open the design of the Hyperloop pod to the public came RedditLoop, a once-subreddit that’s since taken on the less legally-precarious name of rLoop. The team has its eyes set on winning the third-party design competition, but, perhaps more importantly, offers a new model for problem-solving, strategizing and stargazing.
(Above, we see rLoop’s initial concept design for the Hyperloop pod).
As a place where feedback loops go for eternal joyrides, Reddit offered an almost poetic breeding ground for an undertaking that staked its very name in the idea of an overexcited loop system. For this reason, members of rLoop laud Reddit for the very thing that many now consider its detriment. As Richard Behiel, rLoop’s Public Relations Manager, tells us:
Reddit is an immensely powerful platform in that it enables uncensored and rapid communication, which can give rise to feedback loops that amplify certain ways of thinking. Because of this, subreddits often take on personalities of their own and, for better or worse, continue to grow by attracting additional likeminded users.
Understandably so, platforms powered by the diesel of like-minds make for good, if perhaps limited, ideation playgrounds—a fact not lost on rLoop.
In some cases this acts much like a distillation process, concentrating a large number of similarly-interested people into a relatively small online arena. We made use of this effect by recruiting primarily from /r/SpaceX, whose active contributors are known for the quality of their work and their passion for engineering.
However, the great minds of yesteryear were able to accomplish great things pre-Internet. The designers and inventors that came before rLoop were little dissuaded or limited by the non-existence of a bringer-together-of-people as is a subreddit. Yes, working in groups across online channels blows. Therefore, in many regards, rLoop’s magnificent origins act as a handicap in its quest to nab Hyperloop honors.
It can be argued that we are actually at a net disadvantage compared to groups which can frequently meet and work in person.
There are inherent geographical limitations involved with working online, so projects which require frequent in-person meetings are doomed to fail. Even projects which can, in theory, be done over the Internet will often fail due to lack of organization, or loss of participant interest over time.
Hear that, stalwarts of distributed teams?
But if rLoop was going to resign to the pitfalls inherent to its origins, it wouldn’t make for a very good underdog, would it? After all, this isn’t just another contest. When the Elon Musk name is attached to an undertaking, let alone one that concerns the future of public transportation, people take notice and respond.
And do they ever.
A week after the SpaceX’s call-to-action, 700 concepts had already been delivered to the minds overseeing the competition.
— Hyperloop (@Hyperloop) June 22, 2015
But rLoop is little phased. In fact, it sees its formation, and the very nature of how it came together, as a quality working in its favor.
Having started the project with such a large and solid group of people has allowed us to overcome the challenge of finding committed team members on the Internet, which is what causes most online collaborations to fail. We are now well-established enough that people hear about our team and get excited, which makes it easy to recruit new volunteers from a diverse talent pool. Additionally, we now have a network of resources and talent that spans the globe, and may even give us an advantage over “real-life” teams.
With rLoop, our first order of business was establishing a clear-cut managerial structure so that each team member has a specific set of tasks and responsibilities. We all chose our roles based on our own strengths and interests, to keep morale high throughout the duration of the project. Since we are all volunteers, it is important that the team remains hyped up about the project.
Hype + rLoop = HyperLoop.
Get hype. Get Hyperloop.
In fact, the world-spanning team that makes up rLoop welcomes the challenge awaiting them.
We chose to work together online because each and every one of us wants the chance to win the Hyperloop pod competition, regardless of the odds.
You almost hear a sprinkle of Elon peppering their lofty aspirations. Which sounds even more fitting when the group shares its thoughts on the possibilities an initiative like rLoop could afford other areas of industry. (For the sake of maintaining the Musk comparison, note how self-driving cars garner a mention).
Any project that is based on ideas, design, or data can benefit greatly from a collaborative online brainstorming [like rLoop].
A famous example of this is the puzzle video game Foldit, which has advanced biochemical research by enabling tens of thousands of Internet users to play around with virtual proteins. One can imagine a similar idea being used to provide data for self-driving car algorithms, for instance, by recording human reactions to simulated events in a racing video game.
On a smaller scale, groups of a few dozen or hundred researchers in niche fields may benefit greatly from getting involved with widely collaborative initiatives to solve open problems within their field. As an added bonus, the publicity generated from these initiatives would help to educate the masses about current scientific progress.
Nanofluidics, for instance, is a new and exciting field with tremendous application in biotechnology, and yet most people have never heard of it. A nanofluidics subreddit where researchers could discuss recent work, teach people, and post intriguing questions would likely benefit the field.
For all of the rancor Reddit reels in, rLoop is but one still-budding example of the power integrated in collaborative online brainstorming. Social standing, social graces, and even social anxiety do little to impede a participant from joining the initial stages of what might amount to the next big thing. Though not quite arriving at the levels of pure democratic thought promised by those who champion the Internet, collaborative online brainstorming, like seen so far with rLoop, serves the ultimate aim of bringing the best ideas, and not necessarily the best people, to the forefront.
But, if one is to subscribe to the underdog storyline, it begs asking: just who are the people behind rLoop? Are they impassioned hobbyists? Failed engineers? A mix of both? Or something else?
We are the kind of people who want to know how the world works, and are constantly thinking of ways to solve problems. Technological limitations inspire our daydreams, and much of our motivation derives from the tantalizing possibility of a creating a better future through some currently undiscovered or undeveloped process.
We are also huge space fanatics, and many of our discussions have revolved around the New Horizons flyby and the recent SpaceX disassembly. The atmosphere among the team is often that of pure, unbridled enthusiasm for all things space-related, especially when we are all watching the latest live feed of a launch.
And, because this is Reddit after all:
Another commonality among our group is age. Although our team does include a few older and highly-experienced members, we are mostly college students and young professionals in our twenties.
What we lack in experience, we make up for in ambition and all-nighters.
Another rLoop design.
In the event that the rLoop team doesn’t win the pod competition, might rLoop be the start of a design house or a creative agency? Might the team who sees itself as a viable contender in an effort to design an integral component of an all-too integral technology see itself, like Musk, take on global problems wherever they arise?
Yes and no. Our team is comprised of talented and motivated people, so the potential for future projects to come from our team is huge. However, it is unlikely that all of us will continue to work together on one team after the Hyperloop competition is over. People will leave the group, and perhaps others will join, but the connections made will last for years to come; those of us who go on to start our own companies will know who to hire.
If you’d like to join rLoop in their quest for Hyperloop pod domination, email them at their contact email here.