For Elon Musk’s very difficult year, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Specifically, it’s a 1.14-mile tunnel the inventor and beleaguered CEO of Tesla Motors says is a first step in solving “soul-destroying” urban traffic. In 2016, Musk — already busy running two high-profile companies — founded a construction firm called the Boring Company to tackle gridlock by drilling underground. Some thought it was a joke.
What’s it like to ride through Elon’s tunnel? Bumpy, but that’s all part of the ride on a Musk enterprise.
I had the chance to zip through in a Tesla Model X at a launch event that was part Musk pep rally and part amusement park ride. The tunnel runs about 40 feet underneath a road alongside the headquarters of SpaceX, another Musk venture located in this Los Angeles suburb.
My test Tesla had been modified with an additional set of guide wheels — sticking out in front like a pair of ears. Those aligned with the edges of the tunnel, turning the consumer electric SUV into a kind of rail-guided train. It’s like running your car through an automated carwash, but much faster.
Despite the automation, the experience was turbulent. The car jostled with many bumps in the concrete along the bottom of the tunnel, even though our top speed reached just 49 miles per hour. (The proximity to the tunnel walls made it seem like we were going faster.) Boring’s first outing was less polished than either a typical tech product launch or the inaugural run of a new public subway service.
In a press briefing, Musk said Boring had run out of time to smooth out the test tunnel’s concrete base, which caused the bumpy ride. (Musk had originally promised to open the test tunnel last week.) Once Boring figures out how to efficiently smooth the concrete, Musk said cars could go through the tunnel at up to 150 miles per hour.
“We are obviously in the early stages here — this is a prototype and we are figuring things out,” said Musk. “What is really important is that there is a path finally, finally, finally I think … to alleviating traffic congestion in cities.”
Like other Musk endeavors, the idea is buzzy but requires a leap of faith.
Further bumps ahead including getting buy-in from finicky cities and communities who’d need to invest in huge networks of tunnels.
Musk said Boring’s tunnels could eventually connect with another of his ambitious plans: a so-called Hyperloop that would provide very high speed travel across long distances using a vacuum tubes. “But that’s for another day,” he said.
Musk also his eye on one other use for Boring technology: digging around Mars, once his SpaceX firm is able to provide travel to the planet. “This is all a secret plot to build Mars technology,” he joked.