Elon Musk’s pun-inducing, earth-shattering Boring Company is getting more official by the day. Now, as announced by Musk, the CEO of everything, it has a website, complete with a FAQ. So are all our questions answered now? Not really.
“To solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic, roads must go 3D, which means either flying cars or tunnels. Unlike flying cars, tunnels are weatherproof, out of sight and won’t fall on your head,” the FAQ states. The innovation the company hopes to bring is “increasing tunneling speed and dropping costs by a factor of 10 or more.”
While that sounds absolutely amazing who wouldn’t want faster and cheaper tunnels it raises our first additional question.
The FAQ claims that “currently, tunnels are really expensive to dig, with some projects costing as much as $1 billion per mile.” But that’s a pretty high number; while some projects are even more expensive than that, some are already much cheaper more like $100 million per mile, which is where Musk is aiming.
What I love about The Boring Company are the low expectations. Nowhere to go but down.
Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 17, 2017
The FAQ goes on to explain, in broad strokes, how the company plans to reduce the cost of tunneling. In short, it plans to make tunnel boring machines (TBMs) more powerful, more efficient, more automated, and you guessed it electric.
It also plans to make the tunnels a fair amount smaller than they typically are, and it plans to recycle the dirt that the boring machine digs out and turn it into “useful bricks to be used to build structures.”
These sound great, but those ideas have all been implemented already, at least to some degree. The FAQ often mentions “typical tunneling projects,” but in complex projects like these, what’s typical? If there’s water nearby, that’s one type of tunnel. If the soil is extremely tough, that’s another type of tunnel. For a solid discussion of how realistic TBC’s claims are, check out Hacker News’s thread on the subject.
A video, recently shown by Musk at a conference, indicates that the biggest innovation here is in the way these tunnels will be used. Instead of having cars driving on roads, they might be driven around on sleds at a speed of up to 130 mph.
This is why the tunnels can only have a 14-foot diameter. This is a lot smaller than a typical one-lane road tunnel, but not unheard of in the world of underground transport; for example, the Glasgow Subway tunnels have the unusually small diameter of 11.2 feet. We get it; Tesla makes cars, so Musk is obviously focusing on that type of transport, but is it really more efficient to lug around cars in these tunnels, or to simply build a subway?
The FAQ offers a key bit of insight into this. “The electric skate can transport automobiles, goods, and/or people.And if one adds a vacuum shell, it is now a Hyperloop Pod which can travel at 600+ miles per hour,” it says. So even though Musk likes to use the example of Tesla cars using the tunnels, they could, indeed, be a bit like subways, as those electric sleds might be used for transporting people, sans a car.
Musk and his companies, Tesla, SpaceX, and PayPal (which he helped turn into the giant that it is today), have typically been great at disrupting well-established and somewhat stale industries by investing a lot in research and development and taking bold steps that the entrenched giants weren’t prepared to make. It’s quite possible that he’ll be able to apply the same principle to tunneling and make tunnels faster, cheaper and better than the competition.
The newly published FAQ is a good start at giving us an idea of how, exactly, The Boring Company will do that, but we’ll need a bit more info before we jump on the bandwagon.
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