Elon Musk Reveals Real Electric Sled, Boring Company Tunnel

5 months ago by Steven Loveday 62

The Boring Company

Entrance to The Boring Company’s initial venture.

Just two weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk showed off his computer-generated Boring Company video, we now get to see the actual bored tunnel, and a prototype sled in live action.

The Boring Company

Gary the pet snail can dig 14 times faster than current, traditional boring machines. The snail is somewhat of an inspiration for The Boring Company’s goals.

We ask ourselves … did they really work as fast as their pet snail, Gary?

Musk has been hinting about the boring idea for awhile now, and a few weeks ago, he showed us exactly what it may look like in the future. It turns out that the company already had a massive entry structure built, a workable boring machine in segments, ready to start boring, and a prototype sled.

There’s really no way that The Boring Company already had such a long length of tunnel ready to go and constructed a working prototype sled in two weeks. Musk must have already had the set-up completed and testing, prior to his TED2017 appearance, and the release of the teaser video (see below to watch). Rather than showing the public the real thing, he showed only the CGI version.

Of course, many people thought … What an amazing idea that will never actually become reality. He pulled the Musk tactic and got people excited about something that may have been deemed a literal “pipe dream.” Then he waited a few weeks, and released the video that you can see below, along with pictures of the site, the beginnings of a tunnel, and the whole thing working in reality (albeit above ground). We can’t think of a better way to disprove the naysayers, or to make the masses believe that if Musk says it, it will come to be.

The first tunnel is being bored beneath SpaceX.

[Warning, this may cause motion sickness or seizures] This is a test run of our electric sled that would transport cars at 125 mph (200 km/h) through the tunnels, automatically switching from one tunnel to the next. Would mean Westwood to LAX in 5 mins.

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

Source: Teslarati

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62 responses to "Elon Musk Reveals Real Electric Sled, Boring Company Tunnel"

  1. Jake Brake says:

    Very cool to see the actual demo.

    The more I think about it, this may actually be cheaper than regular roads in high density areas once you conside the cost of tearing up existing land or building a double decker highway.

    1. John says:

      I think long-term maintenance costs will be significantly less as well. No weather or ice or salt to deal with.

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      There was a recent episode of PBS’s “Nova” which focused on building the new Crossrail tunnel for the London Underground subway system: “Super Tunnel”

      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/super-tunnel.html

      Digging that tunnel under a densely populated urban area, using a boring machine rather than the traditional “dig and fill” method, certainly has its advantages.

      But if you think that would be easier or less expensive than building regular surface roads… well, just watch the documentary, and learn. For example, they spent a lot of resources maintaining a real-time watch, using laser beam location trackers, on buildings above the dig, and the project had to use sophisticated and expensive counter-measures when buildings began to sink or sag.

  2. Longvsshort says:

    A question seemingly not asked, is, do people *want* to travel underground in a narrow tunnel? For the purpose of beating traffic? Existing modes of transportation like subway and aircraft are unpleasant enough for many. Claustrophobia is a thing.
    I can’t shake off an idea that this may be a humourous stroke. Because 1. Elon seems to have one, 2. “Car on a car” (sled), really? Musk’s internal thinking may have been, “watch as I pull off a seemingly smart and novel but no less impractical and incoherent idea and have my following fawn at me because of who I am and what I’ve done up until now”.

    1. Mark.ca says:

      If you really want to know the answer to your first question then got to LA or New York or any major city (some in Europe may be even worse) and after you sit in traffic for 3 hours to go 40 miles you will get it.

      1. Sch says:

        If it is so expensive to build a subway with cars for hundreds of people, how can this be cost effective.
        But yes driving speed in many European cities during rush hours around 10-13 mph (15-20 kmh). Actually London got from 10 mph to around 15 mph after the congestion charge was out in place.
        My daily commute is 8km and it takes me 25-30 minutes in rush hour.

        1. JH says:

          Elon had a long and quite informative talk about just how to make it cost effective. Its a part of the tes talk presentation.

    2. Bacardi says:

      Short answer will be yes…Heck, I’d take a Vegas bet that if you could get to L.A. to San Diego on a sled, people would do it even if it had a speed of 50MPH…

    3. Martin K Zitter says:

      Get me from Westwood to LAX in 5 minutes and I’ll eat a bug.

    4. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      This wouldn’t be any more claustrophobic than using a subway. In fact, even less so, according to Musk’s concept video.

      There are multiple practical and economic reasons why we’ll never see this concept go anywhere… in both the literal and figurative sense. But claustrophobic passengers isn’t one of those reasons.

    5. Martin Winlow says:

      “….do people *want* to travel underground in a narrow tunnel?”

      YES!

  3. David Murray says:

    But why does the video look like it was recorded on a 1990s cell phone camera?

    1. zikzak says:

      There was no such thing by that time.
      For sure the quality of this footage’s terrible.

    2. Elooney Muskey says:

      Made up. They have a permit to dig only 0.1 miles. The video seens playing in a loop. What a fraudster.

      1. Daniel Bigham says:

        The video was taken in their Hyperloop Test Track, not in the tunnel they’ve just started boring. The test track was used for the Hyperloop Pod Competition a couple of months ago.

  4. Ahldor says:

    I’m sceptic. I believe this system will be too expensive compared to subway which has a much higher capacity. One car per sleigh, and there needs to be a saftey distance between the sleighs. That would men a low capacity of passengers per hour. A number of tunnels will only increase the cost of the system, and I think it will be harder than expected to drill tunnels in several layers across different materials.

    1. Mark.ca says:

      Distance? Why? I bet these can actually interconnected and separate only at the exit time.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        The concept quite clearly states that separate tunnels will be built on different levels, allowing travel in different directions. No provision is made in the basic concept for allowing the sleds to switch directly from one tunnel to the other.

        Obviously if anyone actually tried to build such a system, they would find a way of connecting the tunnels and allowing switching from one tunnel to another. Building every tunnel on a separate level makes no sense. There would be no good reason not to put in overpasses, underpasses, and exchanges, just as with the Superhighway system.

        But that would make the system only slightly less horrendously expensive. That change certainly wouldn’t make it either affordable or practical.

    2. ffbj says:

      It’s certainly no piece of cake to create something like this. Especially in CA with it’s active faults, many other considerations, such as disturbing the foundations of other buildings..etc…Tons of major problems.

      Maybe it’s just practice for Mars where most everything will have to be underground, from my understanding.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        As Elon Musk quite rightly points out, L.A. being in an earthquake zone didn’t stop them from building a subway system there. A wholly inadequate subway system, to be sure (L.A. is much too spread out to support an affordable subway system with good coverage of the area), but still, earthquakes are not a significant problem.

        There are multiple practical and economic reasons why this proposal literally won’t go anywhere. But danger from earthquakes isn’t one of those reasons.

        1. ffbj says:

          Although one big earthquake could shut it down for months. To say it’s not a consideration does not seem realistic, besides that is just one of the difficulties I mentioned.

    3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Ahldor said:

      “I believe this system will be too expensive compared to subway which has a much higher capacity. One car per sleigh, and there needs to be a saftey distance between the sleighs. That would men a low capacity of passengers per hour. A number of tunnels will only increase the cost of the system, and I think it will be harder than expected to drill tunnels in several layers across different materials.”

      Quite correct, Ahldor.

      Mass transit appears only where population density is high enough to provide economic support for such a system. You can think of it as a per-person tax. Where populations are high, and many people are using the system (and partially funding it by paying fares), the tax on any individual is low, so the system can be affordable.

      Contrariwise, where population density is low, the per-person tax would be much too high to ever make it affordable to build and maintain such a system.

      Musk’s “Boring Company” concept makes the economics much, much worse by proposing a very low density of passengers using the tunnels. By contrast with a subway system, this concept would be hundreds of times more expensive per person using it.

      1. Priusmaniac says:

        Unless the cost to bore goes down dramatically. If the boring system can be automated and resistant to failure and wear, then the cost becomes the electric energy that you provide and the initial machine cost. No labor, no repair, no wear out so operating cost equals electricity cost. In more that is indeed the perfect rehearsal for Mars operation where it would not be acceptable to need maintenance, parts replacement or labor. All it can afford to need there is electricity.
        This is interesting because we are once again back to extreme duration system study, something that is decidedly becoming a more and more exciting science.

  5. SteveSeattle says:

    Will this be available only to Tesla owners?

  6. Bacardi says:

    Do we need these sleds to be actually in tunnels? Could they do it above ground?

    1. JH says:

      The sled is essential to lower the cost. Normal tunnels are expensive because they have to be wide enough to cover all the ventilation needed from the engine exhausts. Putting in a sleigh will also help out with average security as the cars will be automated and so forth.

      1. K-lein says:

        The sleds make the costs higher, not lower.

        The reason for using sleds is to increase performance by bypassing the car regulations designed to allow any road legal car driven by a human access (including very old cars). This is why there are speed limits, emergency stop lane, evacuation procedures, etc…
        And replace them by special purpose procedures designed for these special sleds.

        For example : the sleds have redundant autonomous equipment therefore no need for an emergency stop lane, nobody would be leaving their cars and walk in the tunnel, no need for emergency exits. The sleds keep going or drive in reverse towards the nearest normal exit.

        1. ffbj says:

          Yes, but since there are no accidents there is no cost to repair or inconvenience to users. No shutdowns due to accidents. At least theoretically.

          1. K-lein says:

            Same with subways currently in use in every major city around the world that is dense enough to justify underground transportation.

            It is not really an advantage for the boring sled. It’s actually an advantage for any purpose built vehicle which is not a regular car.

        2. Elooney Muskey says:

          What happens when the 12V battery of the sled conks? Or the main battery conks? Till Tesla learns how to make reliable cars, there is no hope for this.

          1. K-lein says:

            You fix this by using a redundant backup.
            Something no car in the world uses because it’s expensive, and regular cars don’t need it because they are allowed to stop on the shoulder.

          2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            Elooney Muskey said:

            “What happens when… the main battery conks? Till Tesla learns how to make reliable cars, there is no hope for this.”

            You misunderstand. These car-carrying sleds work like giant slot cars, with electricity continuously provided. They don’t need a battery, just like slot cars don’t.

            As for your more general objection: Sure, the sleds would occasionally break down, just as subway trains occasionally break down. Mass transit systems don’t need to be 100% reliable to be practical, any more than any other machine has to be 100% reliable to be practical.

      2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        JH said:

        “Normal tunnels are expensive because they have to be wide enough to cover all the ventilation needed from the engine exhausts.”

        That’s not true at all. Long traffic tunnels have high-capacity ventilation tunnels to keep the toxic gases from car and truck exhausts from building up to dangerous levels. A higher volume of traffic would merely require a higher volume of air moving thru the ventilation system.

        As K-lein correctly states, using these sleds would greatly drive up the cost of the system, on a per-car or per-passenger basis, while simultaneously greatly reducing the benefit of those very expensive tunnels, by greatly driving down passenger density.

        Dozens of cars, if allowed to drive on their own thru the tunnel, could occupy the same space as just one of the sleds shown in the concept video. That’s one of the reasons this proposal is wildly impractical; the low traffic density required by those unnecessary sleds.

        I realize Musk’s idea is to reduce pollution by having gasmobiles carried most of the driving distance by EV sleds. But that’s a “green tech” fantasy; it’s wildly impractical.

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Good point. Building this above ground, like an elevated light rail system, would make it much more economically viable. In fact, part of Musk’s Hyperloop proposal is to carry passenger cars in the Hyperloop system.

      I think the only reason Musk is indulging himself in this “Boring Company” concept is because, unlike Hyperloop, he could actually buy a boring machine and start tunneling today. Unfortunately*, it can’t go anywhere — literally as well as figuratively.

      *Or perhaps fortunately, given what an insane waste of money and resources it would be to try to build such a system!

  7. William says:

    Westwood to Lax, in your own car in 5 minutes is hard to imagine. Now at what cost and expense does this time saving premium trip require? After all, the traffic free trip could potentially save more than one hour of bumper to bumper seat time.

    How long before a $100 million+, spent on a single tunnel, can be an investor ROI? Is this under ground express lane, going to be a UCLA joint partnership with the Boring Companies Billionaire Bucks?

    1. Four Electrics says:

      A similar tunnel in Seattle has already cost billions.

      1. William says:

        Boston “Big Dig” also comes to mind with the Seattle project. Also over budget and Billions in spending.

        1. AlphaEdge says:

          Elon wants tunnels around 5 to 6 meters across, and the Seattle tunnel was almost 18 meters across. That makes a huge difference in price and tunneling speed.

          1. Four Electrics says:

            Assuming that’s true, and I don’t know why it would be given the loss of economies of scale, you’d need 3x the number of smaller tunnels, with 3x the number of machines, increasing the chances of outlier events affecting one or more of the tunnels. I can see why LA built one 405 highway and not three 40x highways.

            1. Nick says:

              Loss of economies of scale? What the heck are you talking about?

              Larger diameter tunnels are hugely more expensive. You get much more throughput using autonomous sleds in a small tunnel Vs manual traffic in a huge tunnel.

              Are you just trying to be negative for negativities sake?

              1. Four Electrics says:

                Heh; why did I say 3x? The area difference is 9x; ergo, the Seattle tunnel has the throughout of nine Musk tunnels. Claiming that the cost of boring 9 tunnels will be more expensive than one isn’t negativity; it is common sense. It’s one machine vs nine, with only one dump train for removing debris, and 9x fewer concrete key panels, fewer construction employees, etc. If I’m wrong I’d appreciate citation of a reputable source.

              2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

                “Larger diameter tunnels are hugely more expensive.”

                I suggest looking at it from another perspective. Sure, large tunnels are more expensive to build than smaller diameter ones. But if you consider the cost on the basis of throughput of traffic, the larger tunnel is the cheaper one, because there is a lot more traffic to pay for (or at least justify) the cost of construction.

                The economy of scale favors large-bore traffic tunnels, not small-bore ones, so long as there would be sufficient traffic to keep the tunnel filled most of the hours in a day.

                And do watch that “Nova” episode: “Super Tunnel”. Then you’ll have a far better understanding of the complexities and costs of building a tunnel, even a subway tunnel “only” 6.2 meters across, underneath a high-density city.

                Nick also said:

                “You get much more throughput using autonomous sleds in a small tunnel Vs manual traffic in a huge tunnel.”

                What?!?!

                No. Absolutely the reverse. Just consider how many vehicles or how many passengers per second would pass any stationary point. A multi-lane tunnel packed with cars would give a much, much higher throughput than a single lane of widely spaced single sleds, each carrying only one car, even if they’re whizzing along at a significantly higher speed.

                Elon’s concept emphasizes speed and convenience of individual cars over throughput of the system. That’s because “The Boring Company” is the fantasy of one very rich man imagining traveling in his personal car at high speed between home and work.

                This concept is very much a “VIPs only” case of wishful thinking, not a for-the-masses concept for a practical mass transit system.

    2. ffbj says:

      Tunnel projects can be very dissimilar in many aspects, including ROI. Think of the Chunnel, or the train tunnel through the Alps. I mean those projects must have recouped their initial investments many times over.
      I think if they get the tunnel to just pay for itself after a decade that would be impressive, but I don’t know that they view it as big money maker, just something badly needed.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        “I mean those projects must have recouped their initial investments many times over.”

        Sorry, but no. The Eurotunnel (aka “Chunnel”) is a marvel of engineering, and I think most travelers between the UK and France can be glad it was built, but it’s certainly not a money maker. Just as with most mass transit systems, it can’t generate enough revenue to pay for itself, and has to be supported by government subsidy.

        Quoting Wikipedia:

        The Economist reported in 1998 that to break even Eurotunnel would have to increase fares, traffic and market share for sustainability. A cost benefit analysis of the tunnel indicated that there were few impacts on the wider economy and few developments associated with the project, and that the British economy would have been better off if it had not been constructed.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channel_Tunnel#Economic_performance

        1. ffbj says:

          Here’s the other one I mentioned. Some make money some don’t. Anyway it’s an advance.
          https://www.wired.com/2016/06/switzerlands-35-mile-tunnel-alps-finally-opens-business/

  8. Someone out there says:

    The car tunnel idea is stupid but put the hyperloop in a tunnel and dig it from New York to Paris to get rid of the disgusting airlines. That’s a worthwhile project!

    1. Martin Winlow says:

      Well, it’s as stupid as abandoning a perfectly functional (if somewhat polluting) mass personal transport system for an electric one… and he seems to be doing alright with that idea.

  9. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ sven says:

    Unfortunately, this Musk idea will go nowhere.

    1. Priusmaniac says:

      Perhaps it can have adaptations. Letting down the sleds and replacing them with electric vehicles in self driving mode. This would still allow 100 mph, would remove the need for gas exhaust ventilation and would allow safe automated transit of all Tesla vehicles or others that are electric and compatible with the specific tunnel self driving mode. This would mean perception of fast insertion signals from other cars and perfect synchronization capability.
      The good part would be that such tunnels would add an extra advantage to having an electric car and having self driving software which in this case would indeed allow something not feasible with manual driving.

  10. AlphaEdge says:

    That sled is going through the hyperloop tunnel that was built above street level. Please correct the article as it’s very misleading!!!

  11. R. Reider says:

    Don’t be so narrow sighted people. He wants to improve the efficiency of these machines so they can be packed up on a space x rocket and sent to Mars. Does no one else see that?

    1. Four Electrics says:

      I agree that’s likely. Mars is an inhospitable *thole and colonisists will need live underground to avoid radiation, drinking at the bar 24×7 or watching internet porn in their bunks. Think McMurdo only worse.

      1. Priusmaniac says:

        If you go to the Venetian in Las Vegas, you can see inside what looks like the outside of Venetia with streets and vast doomed ceilings that reproduce the sky by a clever use of paint effects and clever lighting systems. On Mars, underground could be just as good as in the Venetian and even better with higher ceilings and more trees and vegetation.
        Of course you can do whatever else you do on Earth but there will be much more exciting things that you can only do on Mars like taking a tour of the grand canyon version XXL or having the opportunity to work on hundred square miles greenhouses at the surface covered with two membrane of plastic separated with 20 m of ice between them for greenhouse pressure compensation and outside radiation protection.

    2. Priusmaniac says:

      Well having a double interest, for here and for Mars is rather an advantage don’t you think?
      Beside, on Mars, the hyperloop is easier because near vacuum is already present for free and semi-trucks with no aerodynamic drag and a third the gravity would already be have 9 times the range they have on Earth for a same battery energy. Which means 600 miles with less than 200 KWh.

  12. georgeS says:

    He needs the machine to make hyperloop happen.
    I think Hyperloop is more important than the Tesla truck.

    …but I’m way more interested in the truck. Which seems to be an almost impossible problem statement.

    It should be interesting if it’s just a concept like PMPU thinks or if it’s a serious thing.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Actually I think it’s better described as a super-rich man’s hobby.

      Elon’s other idea for high-speed transit, Hyperloop, has far greater potential as a concept which might actually lead to something practical.

      In fact, putting these “slot car sleds” in elevated tunnels would make it much more affordable (Or, to be more precise, somewhat less wildly unaffordable, but still far too expensive to be practical). Elon quite rightly pointed out in his “Hyperloop Alpha” concept that building a road or tube system elevated on pylons is far more affordable, and thus more practical, than trying to dig tunnels everywhere.

      Too bad he ignored that rather important point with this “Boring Company” hobby project.

  13. offib says:

    I wonder if Elon could help us out in Dublin?

    We have no tunnels under the city center and for good reason, Dublin is built off on reclaimed land/bog. The east is cut off by water and the largest satellite towns (under-served by public transport) are all to the west, compromised by constricted space and poor tolling location.

    I hope he or anyone else could sympathise. Here as much as 2 or 3 lanes of traffic every day will attempt to merge to the left into one on the Liffey – blocking other traffic going north/south that’s far less constrained.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Building a subway tunnel or traffic tunnel thru unstable ground is certainly one engineering challenge that needs to be addressed.

      Nova’s “Super Tunnel” documentary, on boring a tunnel underneath London for the new Crossrail subway line, had a highly interesting (to me, anyway) description of a technique where they drilled holes in the ground and squirted in some sort of slurry to stabilize the ground underneath buildings which were sinking when the tunnel was being bored beneath. Perhaps something similar could be used to stabilize the space around a tunnel that is being dug thru unstable ground.

      In my imagination — please note this is just my idea, not what the documentary shows — there would be a process engineered which would work similar to fracking, whereby long holes are drilled deep underground, and something squirted into those holes. In my idea, it would be something similar to hydraulic concrete, which would harden and stabilize the earth (or the landfill, or whatever) around the tunnel. Basically, after the cement set, you’d have a concrete tube around the tunnel, so any lack of stability of whatever is outside that tube wouldn’t matter.

      But obviously there’s a limit to that; the ground would have to support the weight of the tube without sinking.

      In very unstable ground (like that landfill mentioned above), they might have to drive deep pilings down until they reached bedrock to support the tube.

  14. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    Musk is rich enough to indulge in very expensive hobbies, and that’s all this concept will ever be. There is no way that any private company, without using imminent domain condemnation, could ever build a vehicular tunnel long enough to actually realize Musk’s dream of alleviating traffic congestion.

    Nor could this wildly, stupendously expensive concept for traffic tunnels going everywhere, with elevators also located everywhere carrying cars up and down to and from surface streets, ever possibly be affordable.

    It’s a super-rich man’s fantasy, and nothing more. In fact, I rather doubt Elon is serious about it. Calling the concept “The Boring Company” doesn’t suggest he’s very serious about it!

    Another of Elon Musk’s concepts, Hyperloop, has a much better chance of being realized and practical. Hyperloop may actually help partially alleviate traffic congestion someday. This “Boring Company” idea can’t, and won’t.

    1. Doggydogworld says:

      More than his own wealth, he’s able to attract virtually unlimited funds from investor/dreamers who buy into his visions.

  15. SJC says:

    I estimate 10 miles north/south and 10 miles east/west with underground parking, elevators and the rest would start at about $10 billion. If the private sector can fund that then fees would he HUGE.

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