Red Bull's 72-Hour Design Competition Brings 64 Contestants, 16 Inventions to Brooklyn

By Anna Sekula July 14, 2011, 11:00 AM EDT

Photo: Matt Salacuse/Red Bull Content Pool

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With calendar full of large, high-energy events like the Red Bull Air Race, Manny Mania AM Series tour, and Soundclash, Red Bull is an unambiguously ambitious marketer. And now, with the launch of its global magazine The Red Bulletin last month and the first Red Bull Creation, the Austria-based energy drink maker appears to be extending its metaphorical wings even further. The latter, a three-day design competition, took place this past weekend, bringing 16 teams of creative types—engineers, architects, coders, and visual artists—from around the country to Brooklyn, challenging them to conceive and fabricate a functional item that would be presented at a live spectator event. To add to the excitement—and the pressure—Red Bull gave the groups of four 72 hours to assemble their devices, which had to be designed around a definitive topic that was revealed at noon on July 7, the first day of the build-a-thon.

The endeavor was logistically complicated and required a large staff to produce and coordinate several components, including security and the use of two venues—one private space where the teams could build, weld, sleep, and eat, and another for the public showcase. Independent contractor Jason Naumoff served as the producer of Red Bull Creation, working closely with the beverage brand to plan and execute the enterprising project.

“It's really an unique format for an event. Instead of creating something with a scripted result, we got a bunch of awesome, brilliant people together, then provided structure and resources. Then we just let things happen,” Naumoff said. “Most brands don't have the stomach for something with an uncertain result. [Red Bull] genuinely believes in creative people and creativity. To do that takes guts.”

What made the event's configuration particularly unusual was the fact that the site for the 72-hour build, which was perhaps the biggest part of the production and required a considerable amount of effort, was a closed location, open only to the contestants and the producers. Moreover, other than providing a wealth of tools and materials, 24-hour security, RV accommodations, refreshments via food trucks, and the provision that the inventions be able to move the weight of a person from point A to point B, the teams were left to their own devices. To encourage creativity, the organizers sought to create a setting inside Brooklyn's Newtown Barge Park where 64 people could freely use welding tools, iron-working machines, and other heavy-duty equipment. The area also needed to be close enough to junkyards, construction sites, and other places for scrap, allowing the participants to leave the compound and scavenge additional materials.

“We all wanted it to be a special creative environment, where, for a period, almost anything was possible. It was really kind of an alternate universe for 72 hours, where the unimaginable could actually be achieved,” Naumoff explained. “One of our ways of making that happen was to really take care of these folks, so that they could completely concentrate on inventing and building. All the real-life stuff really can get you distracted from true creativity.” The producers even assigned coordinator for the teams, someone who could help them use unfamiliar tools and guide each through the public showcase.

Although many of the inventions were vehicles, transporting the contraptions from the build site to McCarren Park for the event on Sunday was a process in itself. The designs were loaded onto flatbed trucks and conveyed in a procession with a police escort. The contestants were then ferried in town cars.

What the public found at the park on Sunday afternoon was a scene that looked like a cross between a science fair and an amusement park. The creations stood in open display booths, there was a main stage flanked by two smaller platforms for the team showcases, a media tower that allowed photographers and videographers to get overhead shots, and drink stations selling water and Red Bull. To encourage spectators to linger, the production team also set up games and activities. A robotic slingshot controlled by an iPad enabled users to fling water balloons at wooden cutouts of villainous characters—Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, the Terminator, and the aliens from arcade game Space Invaders—as well as people dressed in costume. The producers also commissioned Brooklyn art collective the Madagascar Institute to create a pair of mechanical bulls.

Presentations started at 4 p.m., and by 6:15, the judges—a panel composed of Burning Man co-founder Flash Hopkins, inventor Chris Hackett, Popular Mechanics editor Glenn Derene, and Simone Davalos, co-founder of robot competition RoboGames—announced the winning team as 1.21 Jigawatts. The Minneapolis-based foursome received $5,000 and four desktop laser engraving and cutting machines from event partner Full Spectrum Laser for building an oversize hamster wheel that can print text messages it receives onto the ground as it moves. The participating teams also voted for their favorite, an honor given to San Francisco collective Techshop for a mechanical seesaw that rotates its riders a full 360 degrees while moving.

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