83 - Build a hyperloop for SpaceX with rLoop

TOM LAMBOT is the lead engineer at rLoop, a team of four hundred remote volunteers from around the globe that built a functioning prototype Hyperpod for the SpaceX Hyperloop design competition. He is also an aerospace engineer at NASA Ames.He says, “The Hyperloop is a cool problem to work on. A twenty-first-century problem. I really feel like I’m working on something out of the ordinary and futuristic. It’s motivating.”

BRENT LESSARD is cofounder and project manager at rLoop, a team of four hundred remote volunteers from around the globe that built a functioning prototype Hyperpod for the SpaceX Hyperloop design competition. He says, “We broke off into a dozen or so engineering-based teams and assigned leaders for each team, just to guide the workflow. And then everybody joined those teams based on their interest or their education. No one was restricted to participate within a single team. It simply organized organically, by necessity.”



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Original transcript

Lisette: Great, and we’re live. So welcome everybody to this remote interview. My name is Lisette, and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. And I’m totally over-the-top excited today because today I’m going to talk about companies doing great things remotely. I’ve got a totally special treat for everybody today. We’re going to be speaking with Brent Lessard and Tom Lambot from rLoop.org. And we’re going to be talking about the Hyperloop. Thanks you guys both for being here. It’s going to be great. We’re going to get into rLoop. I don’t want to jump right in. Let’s start out with what do your virtual offices look like. What do you guys need to get your work done? Let’s start with Tom.

Tom: What I need is just my laptop. That’s the great thing of rLoop and all the crowdsource engineering world. It’s really just my laptop. And if possible, either a whiteboard or a piece of paper. I like taking notes and write down all the time, just for equations or the stuff you cannot do on a computer. I can be in the train. I can be in a plane. I can be at my home. As long as you’ve got your computer, you can get some work done.

Lisette: And Brent, how about you?

Brent: It’s pretty much the same. I travel a fair bit for work, so just having my smartphone or my laptop with me. It permits me to have access to everything that we do on rLoop.

Tom: That’s one of the things. We put everything online. We never use email, to be honest. Everything, we just go on Slack to discuss our stuff. We have Google Drive and so forth. As long as you get Internet connection, which is another important thing we have to mention, we can access everything that we’re working on.

Lisette: Okay, we’re going to get into the tools. I’m a total tool junkie. So we will not skip over that. But first we’ve got to talk about what rLoop is and what you guys are doing. I have here from your website, which I really loved, “Imagine a world where you can travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.” I’ve lived there. I’ve done the drive hundreds of times. It takes a good six hours. [unintelligible – 02:23] unless you’re doing something illegal. Or “London to Manchester in 15 minutes.” And then you say, “Suddenly you could live anywhere, work anywhere, and visit anywhere.” Tell us. What is rLoop? What are you guys doing?

Tom: [unintelligible – 02:40]. San Francisco [unintelligible] because I’m an aerospace engineer. There is a lot of aerospace stuff in Los Angeles. Yet I love the Bay Area. We were chatting before coming on air about how [unintelligible – 02:53]. So we love to be able to work in Los Angeles or go see some aerospace conference during the day in Los Angeles and come back home in the Bay Area. RLoop was born on the Internet. In June 2015, there was an announcement by SpaceX that was basically saying, “We would like to kick-start the R&D for the Hyperloop concept. You guys come up with design, and we’ll select the best design, and we’ll race it down a track that we’re specially building in Los Angeles.” And just when that announcement was made, there was a message on the social [unintelligible – 03:48] Reddit online. Someone said, “Hey guys, let’s make a Reddit team.” And a lot of people started to apply. A lot of people said, “Hey, I want to help. I’m a mechanical engineer. [If I – 03:49] can do something,” “I’m a web developer. I can make you guys a website,” or “I don’t have any skills, but I’m willing to put $200 bucks for you to help you around.” So there was a huge boom. A lot of people were interested. And the people started to self-organize. We started to create kind of an org chart saying, “Okay, the team should be like that. We should have a project manager. We should have that team. We should have that team. And people from the Internet started to apply and said, “My name is Brent. I come from Canada. I would like to be project manager.” And people will vote for them. People on the Internet will vote for them. And that’s really how the whole thing started.

Lisette: What did you use to self-organize? How did you visualize the org chart? This is all remotely. This is all via Reddit, people know each other?

Brent: Yeah, like Tom said, there was a post that went up, and people started to apply. And it started organically to form. But we kept a very flat structure. So there is technical lead like Tom. I’m the project lead, overseeing more the administrative side of things. And then we assigned. There are certain subsystems that we’ll need to make this project feasible. So we broke off into a dozen or so engineering-based teams. We assigned leaders for each team, just to guide the workflow. And then everybody, whatever their interest or their education, joined those teams. And you’re not necessarily restricted to participate within a single team. So people who are working on the PR side can also be working on mechanical engineering side, for example. So it’s very flat. It just organized organically, really, by necessity.

Lisette: That’s pretty incredible because you have lots of times with hierarchies and org charts where the work seems to stop. And here it seems like the work is flourishing. It seems like there’s no arguments over who’s getting what role. What was it that you guys struggled with? There must’ve been something?

Tom: In the beginning, I remember the first Slack meeting where a couple of days after the [Michelle – 06:23] team formed over Reddit, it was a mess [laughs]. There were 50 people talking all together. It was the very beginning of the group. They were saying, “Okay, we should do this.” And one guy wanted to talk about the logo. Another guys said, “Let’s focus on the technical thing.” It was going in every direction. The first meeting was really awful. I think we lost [20 persons the first time – 06:44]. And after that, people started to realize, “Okay, if we want to make that thing happen, because the competition time line is so tight, we need to organize ourselves.” And as Brent said, it was really organic. People felt that there was a need for that kind of position. They felt there was a need to work in those things. And the thing that really helped was really to keep people focused and say, “Okay, this is what our objectives are. This is what we should be doing to get a direction.” And from there, it seemed kind of natural the way we should be working.

Brent: Yeah, it was almost trial and error at the beginning. We found out pretty quickly where potential potholes were. And we learned quickly to mitigate them and then use that knowledge to continue our growth in a productive manner.

Lisette: And I read that you now have over 400 people working on your team entirely distributed. So there’s no central office.

Tom: Correct. At one point in the competition, there was something called the Design Weekend. You had a bunch of milestones to pass. And then you were invited to the Design Weekend in Texas. The Design Weekend was basically a place [unintelligible – 08:13]. And every Hyperloop team would be sitting and explaining [unintelligible] design. And we were there. That was the first time that people from rLoop ever met. And it was six months after. All the work was done before only over the Internet. Nobody ever met before. The first two guys that met were actually Eric from San Francisco and Amir, our Numerical Simulation Lead, was coming from India. He flew for 28 hours for the Design Weekend. [unintelligible – 08:44] right. First time people ever met, it was really crazy to see that because as you said, we have no central office, everything over the Internet. Yet we’ve managed to do a very good job so far. So when we met for the first time, “Oh, I didn’t expect you to be so tall.” It seemed like we knew each other for a long time because we spent so many nights together working. But yet it’s like first time we ever met. It was a really weird feeling.

Lisette: Did people volunteer to work on this project in the beginning? Was everybody a volunteer? Are there any paid people now?

Brent: No.

Lisette: Completely volunteer run.

Brent: Correct.

Tom: Yes, people are either students or professionals. They all have something on the side. It’s a hobby. They have a day job. I have a day job. Brent has a day job. We really do this for fun on the side.

Brent: Yeah, everybody is passionate about the project, and that’s their incentive to participate, really.

Lisette: Wow! At the end, what do they get?

Brent: High five.

Lisette: [Laughs]

Tom: [Laughs]

Lisette: And maybe the Hyperloop.

Brent: Everybody is working to that end. Funny thing about the competition is they’ve said that there are prizes. They have not indicated what those prizes are. So everybody is working primarily because they believe the Hyperloop is the future of transportation. And they want to be a part of realizing it. And they agree with our philosophy of being open-source and crowdsource and taking that revolutionary approach to realizing the Hyperloop.

Lisette: Wow! So in the end, it could be that they get cupcakes and a high five.

Tom: Pretty much. It’s a cool problem to work on. It’s a cool [and generic – 10:49] problem. And it seems really like working onto a 21st-century problem. You really feel like you’re working on something out of the ordinary. It seems so futuristic. So people are always interested in that. So if they can [unintelligible – 11:10] something like a motivated [unintelligible] later. I actually helped a bit in the beginning [when that thing happened]. Imagine 20 years down the road, if the Hyperloop is exactly what we imagine it’s going to be today, [unintelligible – 11:24] getting [unintelligible] hey, I actually helped that thing in the beginning. I’m proud of what I did. In some way, I helped a bit. And you need not one person to do that. You need a lot of different people that need to come together to work that out, especially in the short time frame. As Brent said, motivated [unintelligible – 11:46].

Lisette: Indeed. I want to get into how you guys work it together. But I still first want to really understand what is the Hyperloop exactly, a little bit more in-depth. We know we can get from San Francisco to Los Angeles really fast but that’s about it. That’s about where my knowledge extends. What is the Hyperloop?

Tom: The Hyperloop is that crazy concept that SpaceX and Elon Musk came up with in 2013. It’s based on the world that was dominated in the past by other companies and by the inventor of modern rocketry, Goddard. In a nutshell, what it is? Imagine steel tubes in which you make a vacuum, so remove the air out of it. And inside that tube you will have a pod, which looks like a train bod except it’s levitating. So you are shooting that levitating wagon inside an evacuated tube at very, very high speed. You don’t have any friction from the ground because it’s levitating. You don’t have or have very little friction from the air because you are in low atmosphere. So it means that you have a very efficient system. You have something where all the energy is really used for traveling and not losing to heat because of friction and so forth. That’s the [pitch – 13:13]. That’s the idea. So you will have those tubes put onto concrete pylons elevated from the ground. Imagine one station Los Angeles, one station San Francisco. And you have that pod that will be electromagnetically accelerated through the tube and will cruise all the way down to Los Angeles. [unintelligible – 13:34] something as convenient as a train, as fast as a plane, and still cheap enough that can be used for everyday commute. That’s in a nutshell the idea.

Lisette: That is a long way from the greyhound bus…

Brent: [Laughs]

Tom: [Laughs]

Lisette: The horrible greyhound bus.

Tom: I think the motivation behind actually making that route in California was they’ve been talking about the high-speed train in California, which seems to be taking like 20 years to have something, just the plan approved and stuff. And I think there was some irritation there saying, “There must be another way. There must be another way even for that.” 20 years down the road, it means that technology will already be old when it’s put in place. So there might be just new ways to it. I think this was one of the big motivations [crosstalk – 14:31].

Brent: It’s also based on preliminary analysis. That California high-speed rail is estimated to be 10 times the cost of the Hyperloop and less than half the speed.

Lisette: Why? Is it just bureaucracy? Is it old ways of working? What is it that’s making what you guys are doing so fast and so efficiently? They’ve been talking about this line between San Francisco and California as long as I can remember, since way before when I lived there. What’s the difference?

Tom: We always need to be cautious of the numbers because those are estimations. But the thing is the reason we know the cost for the train is that it’s something that has been around for a long time. We know how it’s going. And every now and then in the history of humankind, you need a revolution with something. Sometimes that revolution might fail. Sometimes that revolution is just the thing you need. The hard thing is that leap of faith to go to a new technology. That’s the problem in everything. You need to have people believing, willing to be putting the money on the line and say, “Okay, let’s give it a trial. See if we can make something.” So in the endgame, potentially, the Hyperloop might be able to really reduce all the costs by a lot. In the beginning, it won’t be the case because as every new R&D project, [you’re building up – 16:04] something that will cost you a lot of money for lesser return. But it’s more about the big picture, looking at the endgame. And at the endgame, there is a high possibility of having that thing very cheap [competitive means – 16:16] of transport but yet being so efficient.

Brent: We will be testing that out hopefully by the end of this summer. We should have a functioning prototype.

Lisette: Wow! That is fast. That is fast because you said you started in June 2015. It was when there was the first post on Reddit. And then within a year, you have a functioning prototype. Well, Caltrans, take that [laughs]. Wow! That’s really impressive. What I think is so exciting about what you guys are doing is that we no longer have to ask permission in order to do things like this anymore. People can actually gather around an issue that they care deeply about and do something about it without anybody saying no. You guys can just do this. So it’s totally awesome.

Brent: Yeah, I think that’s something that rLoop is offering to people, i.e. to be able to participate in a project like this without having to need permission from anybody and just being able to offer their expertise or their time as it permits them.

Lisette: And do you take on new people all the time? Or is it limited?

Brent: Yes, we do.

Lisette: If somebody says, “Oh, man, I really love what you’re doing. I’m a rocket scientist. [unintelligible – 17:44] whatever you need.” So then you evaluate. And who evaluates? How do you guys bring people on? Who says yes or no?

Tom: As Brent mentioned, we are open-source [unintelligible – 17:59] people all the time on. People can just apply online. Still now, people can apply online. Because we had [unusual influx – 18:09] of people, we had to put a manual process in [the steps]. We have someone manually approving them. The reason behind is that we’re trying to avoid spam. But other than that, there are no restrictions. We have people on board that have no real technical skill relevant, but yet everybody has a piece to the puzzle. That’s the key thing we really learned with rLoop and all across with engineering, i.e. even the person that seems to be the most like I will never be able to use you, at some point he will say, “Hey, actually, I can do this thing.” And it doesn’t need to be technical. It can be like, “Hey, I can do some kick-ass graphics. I know a guy that can make some flyers for a booth.” For example, in Texas, we had a great guy saying, “I actually have some connection. I can make some merchandising, some mugs and some banners and stuff.” It looked so professional. It was like, “Wow! Mind-blowing.” And you have some people that are working in some of the teams with us that are focusing on the financial side, on the videos. Some of them just know the basic picture of how the [pod design will work – 19:27], but they don’t know the details. But they have a role to play because they’re helping us in other ways. And that’s the thing. We have never refused anyone to join. Everybody is free to join, even if to joint just to disagree with us. It never really happened. I had one or two guys joining just to say, “Hey, you should do things differently.” And we listened to them and tried to do things. But we’re going to steer a whole ship also. Just because one guy says, [unintelligible – 19:55] giving any tangible proof. But it just shows the point that we’re willing to take every input and every skills because everybody can find their place. And we don’t tell people, “Oh, you should go do that.” When people join in, we have HR team that takes care of the people. We have a welcome document now, which is something we really needed. And we can go in details after that because for [unintelligible – 20:24] things, the newcomer is a huge task, actually. But focusing on what I was saying, we have HR team taking care of the newcomers and saying, “Okay, those are the things you should know. These are the latest documents we worked on. You should register for this and that. Take your time to look around the channel. We are organizing Slack so that we have a channel for every profession. We have mechanical, we have electrical, we have PR, we have social media. We have something for everything. So people look around and say, “Hey, I would like to be part of that team and that team.” And we give them tags. The idea of the tag is just for us to know what people are interested in. It doesn’t show what teams they belong to. They are a huge pool. They are not restricted to a team. They can join whatever team they want. [You just first know – 21:20] okay, it seems like there is a huge interest for that team. Maybe we should be looking for more people for that team. But people are not restricted. And people just come and do the groceries, basically. They say, “Okay, I like a bit of that. I like a bit of that.” That’s [how it works – 21:36].

Brent: And we certainly have people join and do nothing, just look around, kick the tires, and then disappear. We have people that we call shooting stars who show up very passionate, very dedicated. They work hard for a week or two weeks, and then they just drop off. And they say, “Something has come up in my personal life. I can’t spare the time anymore.” And they disappear. And then since the beginning, we’ve had a core of probably 30 to 40 people who’ve been there since the beginning, who you can count on to be online daily, who really push the project forward. What we get asked a lot is how we accommodate the new people coming up to speed. Tom was saying we have the welcome document and all of that. But what we try to do is break down tasks into micro-tasks or bite-sized portions so you could take them on without necessarily having to be an expert in the overall system or the current state of the design, that you can just go along Trello where we assign our tasks and monitor them, find something that interests you, and choose that and push forward with that.

Tom: I want to add on the last point that Brent said because I think it’s very important point to underline. The micro-tasks or the art of breaking down complex task into smaller tasks is extremely important for online, outsource, crowdsource things like we’re doing because if someone arrives and sees a huge, complex system, they’re like, “Oh boy! Where do I start from?” But [unintelligible – 23:27] system, and you a good job of breaking them into something. If they just see the task itself without knowing the rest of the system, they can still tackle that task. That’s where anyone can just jump on the task and work on it. That’s really the power and that’s where you really do the whole crowdsourcing part. You have all those tasks, all those people, people who jump on any task they want, [unintelligible – 23:52] them out.

Lisette: So you talk via Slack, and you have files in Google Drive or documents and things in Google Drive. And your tasks are in Trello. Do you guys have regular meetings? What does it look like on a day-to-day basis [crosstalk – 24:11]?

Brent: The team leads, we have a weekly Google Hangouts meeting with all of us to catch up on the progress. Tom and I frequently have Skype meetings just to keep each other in the loop of what’s going on. We have in-Slack meetings, in the teams. So we have like a communal Google Calendar. The team leads often use Doodle to set up the best times for the teams. And we’ll set them up in our Google Calendar, and I will blast an announcement once or twice a week with the upcoming meetings. We use GitHub for the software side. For our CAD work, we use Autodesk’s Fusion 360, which is a cloud-based CAD program. It allows us all to work on it simultaneously. Anywhere you are, if you have access to a laptop, you can download Fusion 360 [crosstalk – 25:21] project together. I think that’s the bulk of the tools that we use, right, Tom?

Tom: Yeah. There’s one more tool I can see because I have a slide in front of my other computer. It’s the stuff I talked about yesterday. Trello is a big thing we’re using. Trello has a board where you can put those bite-sized tasks. We have every team in Trello. And the team will organize themselves. And they put their task in there. So people can just add themselves to a task and say, “Hey, I’m on that task and will be helping on that task.” This is a big feature we are using.

Brent: Yeah, and a lot of the tools integrate well with Slack. [crosstalk – 26:05] get automatically notified in Slack.

Tom: Slack is really the big piece in the middle. When we connect our computer in the morning or when we go back from work, Slack is the thing we’d be monitoring. That’s where the everyday chatter happens. Our little office is actually Slack. Our central location is Slack. You can go on Slack. We have a channel which could be the cafeteria. It’s called the off-topic channel. And people just talk about the latest stuff. I just realize that it’s really like an office. [crosstalk – 26:38] department. If you [walk] over that channel in Slack, you have people talking about the latest [unintelligible] that they’re working on. And you have the private meeting. You have the team lead’s channel, the private team lead’s channel where [unintelligible – 26:50] directorate room or something where people talk about higher-level stuff. Slack is really the middle of the picture. We’re using it for everything. As Brent said, it interconnects wonderfully with a lot of things. Trello [unintelligible – 27:05] can be integrated. And we never use emails. This is just my point of view. I’ve been working in projects where you send email back-and-forth. This is an awful way to communicate. This is just awful. So people say, “Yeah, you need meetings.” No, meeting is an awful way to communicate too. I spend weeks in meetings all the time to get like maybe 20 percent productivity. I hate meetings because people just make a meeting for anything. They say, “Oh, we should have a meeting about that.” You do meetings when it matters, when you need to make a decision or brainstorm something important, not just to discuss [about a thing – 27:50], no.

The way we do it is using Slack we discuss about the things. We make meetings when we need to make sure that people know what’s happening like okay, everybody understood that and when we want to make decision on an important point. Emails are really used only for external communication. And that’s the way I see the future of emails, i.e. not to discuss about something internally. Everybody has at some point been in a chain mail with some stuff happening. And what happened? You [have to be for two hours – 28:28]. You come back to your computer. You see all those emails. I go, “Oh boy! Where is the important part in there?” With Slack, you can have the same kind of chatter. And then people will do like [an add channel – 28:38] when there is something important or just pin that message in the board. “Okay, this is what we need to remember.” Email is an awful way to communicate internally. Email should be kept only to get in touch with people externally or to give a report, things like that but not work. It’s not efficient at all.

Lisette: Yeah, I’m an anti-email person myself. But the one thing that people say about Slack though is that it can be so busy. And there’s so much signal-to-noise. You just have all these channels. Depending on how many you have, you could literally sit and watch messages pop in and just read them all day. How do you guys manage your productivity in terms of that?

Brent: Like Tom said, there are loose guidelines about what gets pinned or what gets notified to everybody. When something important or relevant that the team lead or Tom or myself needs to look at, that’s when we get pinned or an [add – 29:45] channel. And then we can just focus in on that. And Tom also mentioned we have a private team leads’ channel. If anything pops up, they’ll bring it into that channel specifically if it’s required for Tom or I to look at. I know Tom and I both wake up and there are dozens and dozens of notifications that we have to go through. Using Trello as well to separate, “Okay, team has decided on this route. We need to break it down into tasks. Here’s the overall card,” or whatever they call it, and broken it down into the relevant tasks, and then pinning the relevant Google Drive documents within those tasks. It’s been pretty conducive to the work that we’ve been doing so far.

Lisette: How many time zones are you guys working with? Are you all over the world? Are there just all time zones?

Brent: Yes, exactly. That’s a huge benefit for us. We literally work round the clock. Tom is three hours behind me. We’ve got people in Africa, in India, in Australia, in New Zealand, which just goes right around the globe. In the evening, I can be working on something, pass it off to Tom, who is three hours behind me. He can develop it further, then pass it off. Going backwards, by the time I get up, that task or whatever it may be has developed much beyond when I went to bed six hours ago.

Lisette: It’s already gone around the world and got tested.

Tom: It’s a great thing to see. Sometimes people arrive in the morning, and people go to bed. And then at the end of your day, when you go back from work and you’ve been working for a couple of hours on rLoop and you see the same person you saw when going to bed and you’re like wake up [unintelligible – 31:46].

Lisette: So it’s rare that people say like, “Oh, yeah, we have people all over the world at all times.” It’s a huge benefit. I don’t always hear benefit. Do you guys struggle? I usually hear it’s a huge struggle to keep everybody on the same page. Do you guys struggle with time zones in terms of keeping everybody on the same page?

Tom: You have to know. A good thing about Slack is that you can see the time zones of people. You need to be smart about the way you organize and work around that time zone. For example, Amir, who is in India, has a 12-13 hours’ difference with me. So when we have meetings and when I need something from him, I need to know, “Okay, I have my internal deadline. I need to ask him before that time. [unintelligible – 32:43].” That happens all the time. When we have reports that we need to document that we are to send out to SpaceX and we a deadline, we need to know that by the time we’d be sending a document, six hours before that time, Europe will be asleep. So we need to be smart about the deadlines, moving it a bit before, because once people are sleeping, it’s not going to help you.

Brent: It goes back to some points that we touched on previously, i.e. breaking down those tasks into micro-tasks and bite-sized that people can take on at any point, communication, making sure everybody is aware of what’s going on at any given point in time. And proper documentation of everything that’s going on definitely facilitates that. I know Tom got the question last night. He was giving a speech at Hacker Dojo in Mountain View. And someone said the same sort of thing. [Have ever team struggled – 33:52] with bringing on more and more people? But I think we’ve adopted policies that mitigate those issues. And people come on, and they can get involved very quickly. And there never seems to be really… There are those odd instances where there’s a little misunderstanding, but the work for the most part has been overwhelmingly productive, I would say.

Lisette: How did you guys come up with these team agreement standard? How did those come about? I teach a workshop. I teach the Work Together Anywhere workshop. And one of the segments of that is creating a team agreement to get everybody on the same page. What are your working hours? How are you going to communicate? Just the basic stuff. Having that out of the way really helps. How did you guys come up with that? What was your process?

Tom: It’s a really interesting question. [We – 34:49] might not be a good candidate for it because people [unintelligible] propose the idea of should we do it this way. There was no opposition. Everybody agreed directly. It’s really weird. But it seemed that everybody was agreed to it. One thing that we’re trying to do is – and it’s something I always say – being open to feedback. That’s why it might seem that we had no opposition. We might’ve had people saying, “Oh, we should do that slightly differently.” We’re getting very good with responding to feedback. As soon as we get feedback, we just include them directly. Oh, yes, you’re right. We should do it more this way. But we need to make it reasonable. We need to not be stubborn, put our ego aside, swallow our pride, and just say, “Okay, this is my idea. What do you guys think?” And if everybody goes within that mindset, we don’t have someone just fighting for what he thinks is right. Everybody is willing to take some criticism, take a step back. And you can really work easily together. It’s wonderfully amazing how people can work easily together. Just seeing the whole rLoop experience, how people naturally self-organize and manage to agree to sometimes unset rules. They’re just happy to take. And sometimes we have to make rules.

We had some problems a couple of weeks ago where some people were making some changes to the design. We were letting other people know. So we decided, okay, what can we do about it? Well, we are making right now central documents. Every team lead needs to approve, i.e. have a look and say, “Okay, I agree with that. This is our baseline.” And if we want to make a change to that thing, we need to let the other people know. It’s not like we are freezing the thing and nothing will change. It’s more like this is what we agreed on. And because it’s easier for communication, if something happens to that, we need to let all the people know and have them agree also. When we suggested that, people were like, “Okay, it’s a great idea. We should go ahead with that.” And it’s not the harsh sentence to say, “No, it’s going to be this way.” It’s more progressive. I think that’s why it’s going well also. You cannot make big changes in one day and have everybody agree. We really need to go progressive. [That’s the – 37:16] big thing. [crosstalk – 37:19] overall to make sure that we set some goals and things and we walk towards that direction.

Brent: There was a definite learning curve at the beginning. But I think we have a massive pool of resources with all the eyes we have on the project. So very early on, when we identified issues or shortcomings, you get dozens of solutions offered from the various people involved. We operate in a way where everybody, regardless of what your background is, your education, or your geographical location, everybody gets a word, gets some input. And then the team rallies behind the best idea. And as a result, we’ve been able to emphasize the benefits of such a spread-out team and definitely minimize the downfalls.

Lisette: It’s totally cool, absolutely cool. We’re reaching the top of the time. I knew I was going to go over longer. I can’t help it. What you guys are doing is the epitome of remote teams doing great things. I couldn’t help. I was really excited to talk to you. How many competitors are there for the Hyperloop?

Brent: Initially, there were over 1800 competitors. At a certain point, you had to submit a preliminary design. And I think there were over 1200. By the time of the final design, I think they received 350 some odd final designs. And it was basically split. Half of them were university teams. There were a few high school teams as well. And half were independent engineering teams. After that, they invited over 120 to the design weekend, which was end of January in Texas, at which point you presented your non-binding but final design to SpaceX Tesla judges and corporate VIPs at the event. And from that they initially chose 23 teams. 22 of them were university teams and only one non-student team, and that was us. Following, they invited another 7 teams. They said at the time, “We’re going to review. There are a couple of others shortlisted. We’re going to go over their final design a little bit more detail.” So they invited 7 more. So we’re at 30 in total including one high school team.

Lisette: That’s an impressive high school team.

Brent: Indeed.

Lisette: Cool. Now you don’t even have to have a college degree to be able to work on the most futuristic space age projects. I just think that’s incredible. So there are 30 teams. When is the deadline?

Brent: SpaceX is providing the test track. They’re building a one-mile track. They haven’t exactly finalized the design yet. They’re being very generous in that they’re accepting a lot of feedback from the teams. Whenever they have proposals for changes, they’re coming to the teams and saying, “Here are the changes we’re thinking of implementing. Take a week and get back to us with your preferred route.” But as a result, our design does have to remain robust enough to be able to respond to whatever changes they throw at us. Initially, they were saying July. Now it’s end of August, early September.

Lisette: And you guys are like, “Come on, we’re dying over here.”

Tom: We still need to build that thing also. Right now it’s going to be next big step for rLoop, which is really going from the Internet to real life, going from theory to practice. Where rLoop was excellent for R&D, all the brains at the same time working toward one solution, [unintelligible – 41:39], and we’re working on it. We have some solution to bring the people together, find people more locally to be able to build that part. So that great power that we had is actually a bit more of a weakness. We’re working on resolving that [we saw it coming to – 42:01]. I gave a talk yesterday. Some people came to me and said, “Hey, I heard about you guys two months ago. I’m a local. I had no idea we’re involved in that [unintelligible – 42:18] some friend of mine.” And they said, “How can I help?” I said, “Well, we need more people.” Just because rLoop has been popular lately, I have a lot of people who are willing to help and say, “[unintelligible – 42:27] I can help you build stuff.” So we’ll see how it goes. It’s a new exercise for us. It’s going to be an interesting thing to see how crowdsource engineering comes back to reality to actually build a thing. We saw in the Design Weekends that we can achieve great things even remotely and get something concrete done. Now this is the pathway we are going on to build that thing.

Brent: We’re adopting a similar strategy to our tasks. We break them down into micro-bite-sized tasks. We have a lot of members spread out around the world who have access to some very specialized equipment or who are very knowledgeable in certain areas. So we’re hoping to leverage that by adopting a micro-manufacturing policy where small sub-systems or components can be manufactured or prepared remotely and then packaged and sent to a central assembly or final manufacturing facility. So by taking that approach as well, we still don’t really need a footprint anywhere. We’ve got a couple of small facilities in mind in the San Francisco area for final manufacturing and assembly. But the bulk of the sub-systems will probably be manufactured elsewhere and then shipped to that final assembly facility.

Lisette: Awesome, totally great. Oh, I can go on and on, but we have to end at some point. And we’ll definitely do a part two once we get close to the deadline [crosstalk – 44:10] how the manufacturing went. We’ve got to know. If people want to get involved, I saw that there was a crowdfunding campaign that you’re doing on Indiegogo. So people can donate money, and that’s just to help the whole thing. There are obviously costs involved, and you have to build it now. So I’m assuming there’s cost there. What’s the best way for people to get involved? And where should they go?

Tom: There are three ways that people can help us. The first one is to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign. So you can go to Indiegogo.com and just look for rLoop. And you’ll see our crowdfunding campaign. We have mugs, shirts, flight jackets, levitating pod for your desk, a lot of cool stuff. So [unintelligible – 44:59] campaign. The contribution can be as low as $10 bucks. All the money is going toward building the pod. We haven’t spent any real money. I mean we’ve spent some real money, but it’s more like contribution just from our pocket directly. But now we’re talking about bigger car. That’s why we need the crowdfunding campaign. Everything is going into the pod.

Brent: It ties in with our philosophy of crowdsource engineering and open-source. So we wanted to involve a crowd who emotionally and potentially financially invested in the project.

Tom: Second way to help us is to join the team. Go to rLoop.org. There is a form you can fill. And you will have to sign in. It might take a couple of days. We have some people checking every entry to check if it’s not a spam, [omitable – 45:56] entry. You can join. So everybody can join. You can stop by. If you have a skillset that you feel you can help or just want to drop by and see a bit how it goes, if you find something, “Hey, I can actually help for that.” Or just stop by and then you see it’s not for you, you leave. That’s fine. It’s open-source. Everybody can join. And we can have a look. We’re really open.

The third way to contribute – and that’s for the people in California and Silicon Valley – is as we discussed, we’re looking for some more people to build a team. We’re trying to create a building team here in California. It can be Southern California, Northern California. We have people in both. And I am in the Northern California side. Our manufacturing lead is in southern California. So we’re both doing it. We’re trying to get more people that have access to machine shops that are willing to help over the weekend and build stuff, crank some wrenches. And we’re also looking for some locations, hangar types or stuff like that where we could have one of the assembly or micro-manufacturing facility there. So if people know someone that might be interested in joining the team or have some space they would be able to lend us, send us an email to contact@rloop.org or just join the rLoop.org website and get in touch with us and tell us that you’re interested in helping out the manufacturing team for rLoop.

Lisette: Cool. I have a bunch of friends back in California. And if they love me, they are listening to my podcast. So hopefully, some of them will hear this. And I know some of them have warehouse spaces. I’ll definitely be sending them this episode. I wish you guys the best of luck. I think this is really exciting. And congratulations on what you’re doing. It’s really cool. Thanks really a lot for talking to me today.

Brent: Thanks very much. I appreciate it.

Lisette: All right, everybody, until next time, be powerful.


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