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Elon Musk breaks down flying cars vs tunnels, says ‘nowhere to go but down’

Elon Musk agrees with several tech companies working on “flying cars” that transport in cities needs to go 3D in order to support their growing population, but where they want to go up, he wants to go down.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO updated the website of his new startup, the Boring Company, to answer common questions about what is undoubtedly an ambitious venture.

I don’t think anyone would argue that traffic, or soul-destroying traffic as Musk puts it, is a problem that needs solving in several metropolitan areas, but people disagree on how to solve the problem.

Several companies, like Uber and Lilium, are working on what people are calling “flying cars” – more accurately VTOL electric aircraft – in order to solve the problem.

Musk argues that people will not like the anxiety of having large machines fly over their heads. Instead, the Boring company lists benefits of tunnels:

  • There is no practical limit to how many layers of tunnels can be built, so any level of traffic can be addressed.
  • Tunnels are weatherproof.
  • Tunnel construction/operation is silent to anyone on the surface.
  • Tunnels don’t divide communities with lanes and barriers.

Unlike “flying cars”, tunnels are not a new technology, but Musk argues that cost was the barrier to making them a more important part of our modern transport infrastructure.

In the FAQ section, they explain in details how they plan to reduce the cost of boring the tunnels. First off, the electric sled unveiled in the concept video from last month is apparently an important part of it.

Stabilizing the vehicles on sleds cuts the required diameter of a single-lane tunnel in half – 14 feet instead of approximately 28 feet, which in turns reduces the cost by a factor of 3 to 4, according to the company.

Furthermore, they want to increase the boring speed. That’s something Musk explained in the past, but they now list clearly what they plan to do to achieve that:

  • Increase TBM power. The machine’s power output can be tripled (while coupled with the appropriate upgrades in cooling systems).
  • Continuously tunnel. When building a tunnel, current soft-soil machines tunnel for 50% of the time and erect tunnel support structures the other 50%. This is not efficient. Existing technology can be modified to support continuous tunneling activity.
  • Automate the TBM. While smaller diameter tunneling machines are automated, larger ones currently require multiple human operators. By automating the larger TBMs, both safety and efficiency are increased.
  • Go electric. Current tunnel operations often include diesel locomotives. These can be replaced by electric vehicles.
  • Tunneling R&D. In the United States, there is virtually no investment in tunneling Research and Development (and in many other forms of construction).  Thus, the construction industry is one of the only sectors in our economy that has not improved its productivity in the last 50 years.

They also claim that earthquakes and surface noise are actually nonissues. It’s something that came up a lot since Musk first shopped the idea around, but tunnels are actually a very safe place during earthquakes since they move with the ground.

Interestingly, they are also exploring ways to take advantage of all the earth that will be dug out of the ground from their tunnels:

“The Boring Company is investigating technologies that will recycle the earth into useful bricks to be used to build structures.  This is not a new concept, as buildings have been constructed from Earth for thousands of years including, according to recent evidence, the Pyramids.  These bricks can potentially be used as a portion of the tunnel lining itself, which is typically built from concrete.”

As we reported last week, the Boring Company seems to be moving fast. They already unveiled a prototype of the ‘electric sled’ and Musk showed the first pictures inside his tunnels under construction in LA.

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