After setting his sights on reimagining the world’s energy grid, overhauling transportation systems and mastering space travel, Elon Musk is now targeting urban congestion. With an as-yet unnamed company, under the working title ‘the Boring Company’, Musk is beginning to develop the machinery and systems needed to construct networks of underground tunnels to eliminate traffic jams.
In a feature with Bloomberg, Musk made clear that what initially appeared to be a throwaway joke would actually be the beginnings of his newest business. On December 17, Musk tweeted: “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging.” He later tweeted that he would create ‘the Boring Company’ and that he was “…actually going to do this”.
Few took the initial string of tweets seriously, but Musk has now revealed that he has dug a 15ft deep hole in a car park near SpaceX’s headquarters and purchased a boring machine. While the project does not have any full-time employees working on it, SpaceX engineer Steve Davis has been appointed its lead. While still in its very early phases, the company is definitely real.
Musk has revealed that he has dug a 15ft hole in a car park
The rationale behind Musk’s project is that tunnels would be a solution to urban congestion. Currently, road networks are two-dimensional, but sweeping networks of tunnels would allow for a far greater volume of simultaneous users. He also sees the project as being similar to SpaceX in the sense that he is creating more efficient and cheaper alternatives in long-stagnant industries. The tunnelling machines used today are not much different to those used 50 years ago. Speaking to Bloomberg, Musk said that tunnelling has been on his radar for years.
Little mention, however, has been made of the significant safety concerns such a plan would raise. Much like fracking, drilling numerous tunnels into the earth at various levels would severely weaken the ground’s structural integrity, risking devastating collapses. What’s more, with urban air quality now known to be the cause of millions of deaths each year – even affecting people inside cars – it will be hard to sell the idea of spending even more time in poorly ventilated surroundings.
In any case, Musk has made a habit of re-energising old industries with a dose of innovation. With Tesla, he has shaken up both the automotive industry and electrical grids, and SpaceX looks set to substantially reduce the cost of space travel. But, despite his successes so far, Tesla and SpaceX still seem to be a long way off reaching his ambitious goals of grid-scale energy storage and Mars colonisation. Still, like Tesla and SpaceX, the Boring Company has a wealth of potential.