Tesla, Inc. (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk unveiled the first look of his plan to combat traffic by digging a network of tunnels under the earth’s surface at a TED conference today, according to Recode. A minute-long video, posted by The Boring Company, showcases how cars could be lowered into tunnels through elevators and then be transported to their destination gliding on a platform, or ‘skate’ as the video refers to it, at speeds of 124 mph, before being brought back to terra firma using the same elevator process.
Musk is always making news, whether he is conferring with President Donald Trump about the nation’s economy, or launching rockets and fighting worker unions at his manufacturing plant in Fremont, CA. Whatever his faults, at least one cannot fault him for living a boring life. (See also, End Times: Ways Elon Musk Believes the World Could End.)
“There’s no real limit to how many levels of tunnels you can have,” Musk said according to Recode. “The deepest mines are much deeper than the tallest buildings are tall.”
via GIPHY video credit: The Boring Company
Musk first announced his intentions about burrowing in the earth to make way for traffic on his Twitter feed in December last year. In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek earlier this year, Musk revealed more details about The Boring Company. Musk at that point had already dug a pit 15 feet deep and more than 50 feet wide at his SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles to test his idea. As he had explained earlier, his intention is to develop a 3D transportation network, one that incorporates a Y-axis or height (or depth) to the existing length and breadth of paved streets. This underground network could have “as many as” 30 levels of tunnels for cars and public transit systems, such as the hyperloop. (See also: How Elon Musk Will Revolutionize the Modern World.)
via GIPHY, video credit: The Boring Company
One could, of course, argue that going up might be cheaper and less time consuming. But Musk has said in the past that flying cars, which are being championed by Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) chairman Larry Page, are a “dumb idea” because they are not scalable and require enormous downward force to keep them in the air. The latter translates into wind, noise and debris for those on the ground. (See also: Why Flying Cars Will Not fly Soon)
Instead, Musk’s immediate aim is to build a fast and cheap tunneling machine. According to him, tunneling costs a billion dollars a mile and takes enormous time and effort. As an example, he cites the City of Los Angeles’ extension of its subway line, which will cost $2.4 billion for an extension of 2.6 miles and take approximately 10 years. Musk wants to develop tunneling machines that make it possible to drill a mile a week. He plans to do this by accomplishing three tasks: feeding the machine with more power, constructing it with better materials, and developing a design that enables it to dig and install tunnel walls at the same time.
As they have done with the electric car industry, Musk’s improvements could also have a transformative effect on the economics of tunneling. The Bloomberg article stated that new machines cost $15 million on average; however, China’s recent construction boom was driving costs down. They could become even more cheap if Musk’s idea takes off, because it would translate into a proliferation of public transit systems that use tunneling. (See also: Elon Musk Unveils Tesla’s New Master Plan.)
While the execution might be a distant dream, Musk has already got hands on board to work towards on his project. According to Recode, Musk said he has recruited some interns and part-time workers and has also purchased second-hand machinery. But progress is slow. Not only does the boring company only attract 2-3 per cent of Musk’s time, spent primarily between Tesla and SpaceX, the machines lose alomost half their time in re-inforcing the tunnels they bore. And that’s something that Musk is hoping to change.
“We have a pet snail named Gary,” he said. “Gary is capable of currently going 14 times faster than a tunnel boring machine. We want to beat Gary. He’s not a patient little fellow, that will be victory. Victory will be beating the snail.”