Elon Musk, The Boring Company

Elon Musk’s The Boring Company

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We all complain about being stuck in traffic, but we rarely have anything to do about it. When Elon Musk complains about traffic though, he comes up with a solution to reduce it.

In December 2016, Musk tweeted “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…”. For anyone else, that would be a pointless tweet, but for Musk, it was the announcement for the launch of his newest company, calling it The Boring Company in the spur of the moment; boring tunnels, not people.

The First Tunnel

By April 2017, they had already started digging the first tunnel, using a Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) named Godot after the Samuel Beckett play Waiting for Godot. The 9-meter-wide, 15-meter-long and 4.6-meter-deep test tunnel was dug on the premises of SpaceX’s offices in Hawthorne, California.

Why hasn’t this been done before?

The Boring Company is digging tunnels, called Loop, to transport passengers on electric skates, carrying between 8 to 16 passengers and traveling at 125-150 miles per hour. Unlike subway cars, the electric skates are autonomous and is an express transit system with no stops between origin and destination.

It seems like a simple enough solution for reducing traffic and car emissions. The Boring Company is already developing the Loop, competing with Virgin Hyperloop One who are developing a Hyperloop – a high-speed transportation system with pods that travel through pressurized tubes at around 600 miles per hour, but why aren’t more companies doing it?

That is mostly because tunnels are really expensive to dig. Some projects can cost as much as $1 billion per mile. The Boring Company plans to reduce tunneling costs mainly by decreasing the tunnel diameter and increasing the speed of the Tunnel Boring Machine, which would decrease digging costs, but not significantly. Yet Musk says Loop rides would cost just $1.

Is it possible?

The standard diameter for a one-lane tunnel is about 28 feet but the Boring Company wants to reduce it to less than 14 feet in order to make digging tunnels more feasible. Safety concerns rose from city planners that a small-diameter tunnel could not allow people to be evacuated from the vehicle because of the narrow walls. Others questioned whether the speed of digging would actually be faster. Godot, the Tunnel Boring Machine, lost a race to Gary, a snail, when construction started in May, 2017. Musk said at his TED talk in the same month that their goal is to beat Gary.

“So Gary is capable of currently going fourteen times faster than a tunnel boring machine. We want to beat Gary. He’s not a patient little fellow and that will be victory. Victory is beating the snail.”

TBMs

Aside from the first Tunnel Boring Machine Godot, the Boring Company has another TBM called Line-storm, named after the Robert Frost poem “A Line-Storm Song”. It is a modified conventional boring machine, which is supposed to bore 2 to 3 times faster than other machines.

The Boring Company has also started developing their own boring machine in May 2018, called Proof-rock, anticipated to be 10-15 times faster than conventional boring machines.

Funding

The Boring Company has raised nearly $113 million, more than 90% of the came from Musk himself and the rest from employees. With no outside investors, the company sold promotional products to help raise funds. That started by selling 50,000 hats with the Boring Company’s name on them. These hats were sold out in January 2018, to be replaced by the Boring Company’s new promotional product, a real flamethrower, a blow torch shaped like a gun. A name later changed to Not a Flamethrower to allow it to be shipped.

20,000 “flamethrowers” were available for preordering in the beginning of 2018 for $500 each, along with a fire extinguisher and were sold out in a few days. Musk was criticized a lot for that marketing gimmick, but still, it must have raised at least $10 million.

The Boring Company’s newest product should be much safer: life-size Lego-like bricks, bored in the middle, made from tunneling rock and can be used to create your own sculptures or even build your house. Musk said that the first set of bricks would have an ancient Egypt theme.

 

Projects

The Boring Company is currently working on four projects, designing Loop and digging tunnels in Hawthorne, Los Angeles, East Coast and Chicago. They also plan to partner with SpaceX to dig tunnels to house people on Mars, someday.

 

Elon Musk is definitely revolutionizing personal transportation with Loop transit. Roger Staubach said “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile”, and Musk sure went the extra mile on his pursuit of a better world. In Musk’s future, I see no traffic jams.

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