Elon Musk reveals The Boring Company’s first tunnel in Los Angeles

It would be fair to say that Elon Musk has been a lot in the news recently, but the latest reason appears to be somewhat encouraging.

Boring Company's first tunnel

A while ago, Musk revealed his Boring Company. Put simply, this was created with the aim of destroying the traffic that has blighted him through Los Angeles.

At first, it could be said that the general consensus was that Musk’s project was something of a pipedream. Since then, things have developed, and we have today got to the stage where the company have revealed a working prototype of the technology in action in LA.


First and foremost – what is the Boring Company?

what is the Boring Company

Before we get into the big reveal, let’s reintroduce the Boring Company. This is another one of the projects set up by Elon Musk, who is planning to take on the immense traffic that builds up in metropolitan areas. To do this, he is planning to use tunnels, but the USP comes in two forms. Firstly, he is planning to innovate the method in which tunnels are bored (hence the name, the Boring Company). Secondly, the tunnels will take advantage of a fully electric transport system.


What is Musk’s announcement about?

about Musk's announcement

It’s the second point from the previous paragraph which the latest announcement has focused on. It has changed somewhat from its original aim, as well. For example, initially Musk stated that vehicles would effectively be fitted with electric skates, which could be parked on before they were hurtled through a tunnel.

Instead of the above, Musk and his team have opted for a tracking wheels system. Put simply, this is an attachment that can be added onto vehicles, and is deployed from beneath the car. This is crucial for the whole purpose of the tunnel; without this tracked system, the car’s existing wheels would hit the sides of the tunnel and the whole system would obviously fail.


The tracking system in-detail

tracking system in detail

Clearly, the tracking system is a major development in this project – not least because it wasn’t planned from the outset. Now, the whole tunnel theory depends on them, although Musk expects that vehicle owners will be paying somewhere in the region of “$200 to $300” to install them onto an existing car.

Of course, for the purpose of the latest demonstration, the vehicle used in question was a Tesla. As Musk alluded to when speaking to the press, this was an obvious choice, as he owns the Tesla brand.

Critics have raised questions on this though. This is because the preliminary requirements for this tracked system seem quite stringent. For example, it has been found that eligible vehicles will need to be powered by electric, be somewhat autonomous (related to acceleration and braking) while they will also need to hold a constant speed of around 150 mph. Suffice to say, this rules the vast majority of vehicles out, barring the Tesla Model X, of course.


How was the demonstration?

boring company's tunnel demonstration

According to journalists who attended the demonstration, this was anything but the smooth ride that has been eventually promised by Musk and his team. For a start, the tracking wheels were not retractable. While this doesn’t impact the ride quality, it at least means for the time being that the vehicles forming part of this demonstration would not be drivable on standard roads.

In relation to the ride itself, this was described as “bumpy” by most. The company’s response to this was that the bumps were caused because of the shelves that are based on each side of the tunnel. Due to the fact that the Model X was effectively driving on these shelves, it meant that the ride was bumpier than it should perhaps be.

Going forward, a more seamless process will be created which will create these concrete shelves. This should hopefully make the “track” smoother, with Musk himself claiming that riding through one of these tunnels will be like skating on glass.


What about the boring elements?

boring elements

Of course, when we speak about the boring factors, we are speaking about the construction definition of the word.

In relation to this, little has changed from when Musk first made his announcement about this project. In fact, the only change could be the company’s learnings, with the firm stating that they have gained a lot of knowledge from this first tunnel and this will be used during the creation of their innovative boring machine.

For this project in Hawthorne, they used a machine named Godot. The next machine goes by the name of Line-Storm, but this is not the final step in their construction plan. This final step will come with their third-generation machine named Prufrock – which addresses a lot of the issues that the company claimed existed with current boring techniques.

For example, that machine should be able to bore about fifteen times faster than the next best boring technology. This is all because the company are trying to create a lean way of working; their machine will bore whilst installing reinforcement and removing dirt at the same time. In contrast, existing boring technologies perform these tasks completely separately. It means that they may only bore for ten minutes per hour, with the remaining fifty dedicated to the other tasks. In terms of timeframes, this should be ready “relatively soon”, according to Musk.

Another interesting part of their boring process comes with the movement of the dirt. This can relate to 15% of the overall cost of a tunnel, which is obviously a significant proportion.

To navigate this cost, the company have found a way to convert the dirt into Lego-like bricks. It means that the dirt won’t be moved as such, but it will be compacted into these bricks before being sold for around ten cents per brick.

These bricks are said to be more substantial than cinderblocks and to demonstrate the technology, the company showed a watchtower that had been constructed from bricks made from the dirt of this test tunnel.

So far, the economics start to be working as well. For example, most projects of this ilk would cost the developer around $1 billion per mile, with this taking anywhere up to six months to complete. While exact timeframes haven’t been released, Musk says that his company will do this in a fraction of the time and only spent $10 million on a 1.14-mile tunnel. This is without a lot of the boring technologies that have been spoken about being implemented yet.


Next steps for the Boring Company

boring company next steps

Well, the aim of the company is the same as it always has been – they want to reduce traffic. To put this into action, eventually Musk wants there to be a whole network of tunnels across cities with drivers paying a small fee to use them. It’s understood that Chicago will be one of the first cities to use this and with Musk claiming that he is being approached left, right and center in relation to funding, it looks as though everything is moving in the right direction for now.

Who is Graham Ramsey

Graham writes for the travel and transport section of GreenKing. He has been covering clean technology topics since 2007. He contributes to The Guardian and EcoGeek.
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