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Inside Elon Musk’s Boring Company. The whys, hows and whats

Elon Musk took the world by surprise when he announced, last year, he wants to drill tunnels under Los Angeles and relieve Americans of the soul-destroying traffic. Recently he even offered a glimpse into how the tunnel network would work, and now his company is sharing its secrets.

“Right now, one of the most soul-destroying things is traffic. It affects people in every part of the world, it takes away so much of your life, it’s horrible,” Elon Musk recently said in a Ted talk.

And he wants to solve that problem with tunnels. The Boring Company is Musk’s latest adventure in revolutionising the world. And he seems to be enjoying the ride so far.

Puns, jokes, holes

It all started with Elon Musk‘s tweet back in December 2016:

What some thought was a joke eventually turned into another challenge for Tesla and SpaceX’s founder. And you couldn’t blame those who didn’t take Musk seriously, as he started talking about it using puns.

“I am actually going to do this,” Elon stressed.

In February, Elon tweeted a picture of his ‘boring machine’ and in March the first official merch of The Boring Company – a hat.

In the same note, Elon Musk said he’s thinking of naming the first tunneling machine ‘Ultimate Boring Machine, the Second,’ as it would give it more credibility. Then he hinted at ‘Snoop Dug,’ but eventually settled for ‘Godot,’ a name inspired from “Waiting for Godot”, a play by Samuel Beckett.

A glimpse into the boring future

Even if The Boring Company just started working on its first tunnel, Elon Musk and his team have already envisioned a future where cars – Teslas in his imagination – would travel with speeds up to 200 km/h on electric sleds.

Musk even shared a test run of such a sled and shared it with a warning: “may cause motion sickness or seizures”

The ins and outs

Underneath all the puns, The Boring Company is serious business. And while Elon Musk couldn’t help himself and delivered yet another one – “What I love about The Boring Company are the low expectations. Nowhere to go but down” – he did share some important information on the whys, hows, and whats.

The reason behind the choice of tunnels is simply explained by the company:

“To alleviate traffic, transportation corridors, like the buildings that feed into them, must expand into three dimensions. One option is to “go up” with flying cars. However, flying cars have issues with weather, noise, and generally increase anxiety levels of those below them. The other option is to “go down” and build tunnels.”

On the benefits, Elon Musk’s team says they’re pretty obivoius: there’s no practical limit to how many layers of tunnels can be built; tunnels are waterroof; tunnel construction and operation are silent to anyone on the surface; tunnels don’t fivide communities with lanes and barriers.

But why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Well people have, but the costs of building tunnels are crrently really high – some projects costing as much as $1 billion per mile.

Elon Musk and his company want to reduce tunneling costs by a factor of more than 10. How?

“First, reduce the tunnel diameter. To build a one-lane road tunnel, the tunnel diameter must be approximately 28 feet. By placing vehicles on a stabilized electric sled, the diameter can be reduced to less than 14 feet. Reducing the diameter in half reduces tunneling costs by 3-4 times. Secondly, increase the speed of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM). TBMs are super slow. A snail is effectively 14 times faster than a soft-soil TBM. Our goal is to defeat the snail in a race.”

Yes, Elon Musk and his team want to race a snail. And although it may sound ludicrous to some, the snail really exists – his name is Gary and lives in a pineapple.

The race will be a real challenge for The Boring Company, as it has to find ways to safely and efficiently increase the TBM’s power, modify technology in order to support continuous tunneling activity and make the TBM automated.

The Boring Company is also investigating technologies that will recycle the excavated dirt into useful bricks to be used to build structures. The team says these bricks can potentially be used as a portion of the tunnel lining itself, which is typically built from concrete. Besides saving time and costs, the process would also reduce the environmental impact, as concrete production accounts for 4.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

And also on the environment side of things, it is also one of the reasons Elon Musk chose electric sleds for transport. The electric sleds are flat plates on wheels propelled by an electric motor and it should increase safety, the company says, as it eliminates human error and the ability to “swerve off-course.” Also, the electric skate can transport automobiles, goods, and/or people.

Although it’s an ambitious project, Elon Musk recently admitted The Boring Company only takes up 2-3% of his time.

John Beckett