Elon Musk doesn’t just want to bore tunnels – he wants to make boring better

A picture taken on January 25, 2016 shows a tunnel boring machine at the building site of the extension of the tramway of Nice. The extension of the tramway in Nice will connect the city from West to East for a distance of 7.7 km. The line will be open to the public in 2018. / AFP / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

Elon Musk really is starting a tunnel digging company, and it really is called The Boring Company – TBC for short, which he says could also mean “to be continued.” The Tesla and SpaceX CEO detailed his tunnel ambitions, which he shared first via Twitter, with Bloomberg, and showed off his first dig, which is located in the SpaceX parking lot both for convenience and because it’s legally uncomplicated.

The plan right now is to take this initial hole and widen it so that it can support a tunnel boring machine, which would then dig down and then begin chewing through the earth horizontally once it hits a depth of around 50 ft. The desired end state for the tunnel is that it be wide enough to fit cars, and Musk told Bloomberg it’s intended as the anchor for a widespread underground transportation network, but he isn’t yet revealing where the tunnel’s first destination will be.

Eventually, Musk hopes to create a network that includes up to 30 levels of tunnels, which would accommodate both cars and trains – with Hyperloop definitely a possibility. The hope is to make a transportation network that is three-dimensional, rather than limited to just a layer on the surface.

There’s another push on to expand urban transport three-dimensionally – by taking to the skies. Companies including Uber and Airbus are looking into the viability of airborne on-demand autonomous transit, which would indeed make for less congestion on city streets. But Musk maintains that despite what your gut might tell you, tunnels are actually far more achievable then air taxis.

Consider the hurdles to flying cars: there are still numerous technical challenges in terms of creating cost-effective aircraft, and the autonomous systems to fly them. There are also regulatory concerns, and skyways would present a completely novel set of challenges in terms of both routing and permitting. Building tunnels is something we know how to do – albeit not, perhaps, on the scale Musk envisions.

The Tesla CEO’s plans aren’t without their own innovation requirements, however; Musk wants to build better boring machines, which can dig faster than existing hardware. Musk told Bloomberg the tunnel industry looks a lot like the space industry did when SpaceX got involved, in fact: legacy providers use tech that hasn’t improved much, with big, expensive contracts that offer a lot of room to maneuver for an upstart willing to apply some real marginal pressure.

Like Musk’s other big ideas, tunnels actually make a lot of practical sense once you step back and look at the problems he’s trying to solve, and alternate solutions already out there and given credence by others.



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