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Elon Musk Is Really Boring (bloomberg.com) 226

Sometimes it is hard to tell if Elon Musk is serious about the things he says. But as for his "boring" claims, that's really happening. In a wide-range interview with Bloomberg, the billionaire talked more about his new venture, The Boring Company. The idea began on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago when Musk tweeted, "Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging..." Over the course of next few hours later, Musk added, "It shall be called 'The Boring Company,' Boring, it's what we do. I am actually going to do this. Excerpts from the story: And so, around noon on a Friday in January, an excavation crew started digging. "I was like, 'Hey, what's the biggest hole we can make by Sunday evening?'" Musk says. [...] "My other idea was to call it Tunnels R Us and to essentially troll Toys "R" Us into filing a lawsuit," he says, letting out a loud and well-articulated ha-ha-ha-ha. "Now we've decided to troll AT&T instead! We're going to call it American Tubes and Tunnels." When I ask him if the tunnel venture will be a subsidiary of SpaceX or an independent company, he responds cryptically. "Don't you read my Twitter? The Boring Company. Or TBC. To Be Continued." An aide chimes in: Yes, the Boring Company, aka To Be Continued, aka Tunnels R Us, aka American Tubes and Tunnels, aka whatever, will indeed be an independent company. Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago. Musk says he hopes to build a much faster tunneling machine and use it to dig thousands of miles, eventually creating a vast underground network that includes as many as 30 levels of tunnels for cars and high-speed trains such as the Hyperloop. Musk chose the SpaceX parking lot as the site of his first dig, mostly because it was convenient and he could legally do so without city permits. The plan is to expand the current hole into a ramp designed for a large tunnel boring machine and then start digging horizontally once the machine is 50 feet or so below ground, which would make it low enough to clear gas and sewer lines and to be undetectable at the surface. 100 marks to Bloomberg for the headline, and the story which is as funny as it is insightful.
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Elon Musk Is Really Boring

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  • by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:04AM (#53879367)

    Between making SpaceX & Tesla profitable - or cutting the cash losses - and raising 5 kids, don't you have enough already on your plate?

    • Typical - get a big idea, get resources together to make it happen, get it off the ground and running, then loose interest. On to the next big idea.

      • by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:19AM (#53879453)

        As long as you leave other competent people in charge of the project, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

      • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:32AM (#53879523)

        At least he's able to get things started and then bring in the people to see his projects to fruition. SpaceX is moving along nicely. Tesla cars are on the roads. If only 50% of his projects take-off he's doing well.

        We need innovative people like him to really shake things up, even if he does get bored and move on to something else before his projects fully reach completion.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The problem is that, we have innovative people. We have very wealthy people. Finding those who fit in both those categories is difficult. There are thousands of people with the next Big Thing, but because their product isn't advertising or analytics (read, more ways to spy on the user), their stuff is ignored by VCs. There are well to do people, but for the most part, they are purely interested in the next Vertu offering or what Bugatti is making next... and extremely few are even interested in doing an

          • by ranton ( 36917 )

            There are thousands of people with the next Big Thing, but because their product isn't advertising or analytics (read, more ways to spy on the user), their stuff is ignored by VCs.

            Considering how much valuations of these companies are ballooning in recent years, it seems VCs are getting pretty desperate with finding companies worth investing in. I doubt there is this massive pool of people with truly marketable and executable ideas that simply cannot find funding. Nearly everyone has some idea they think could make millions, but having an investable idea is far different than that.

            If your contention is that we need to be spending more money on basic research which is unlikely to pay

        • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

          At least he's able to get things started and then bring in the people to see his projects to fruition.

          And that's what a serial entrepreneur does. Building a business is one skill set. Running a business is another skill set. Not everyone has both, or the desire to have both.

          It's not necessarily a bad thing, however, sometimes the older businesses flounder if the president is more interested in the new thing.

      • by ranton ( 36917 )

        Typical - get a big idea, get resources together to make it happen, get it off the ground and running, empower others to complete your work, then lose interest. On to the next big idea.

        FTFY

        If only there were more successful serial entrepreneurs in the world. We would have our flying cars by now.

      • Google has a similar case of Corporate A.D.D. - except the "A" team hands off the project when they get about 80% done with it.

        Unfortunately, it seems like the remaining 20% is done by the interns.

    • by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:38AM (#53879567)

      That's just the thing. He already has enough on his plate, so now he has to dig under it.

    • He might also want to have an environmental impact statement from the EPA on what would happen by excessively boring the earth from a myriad combination of locations
    • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @03:33PM (#53881761)

      Between making SpaceX & Tesla profitable - or cutting the cash losses - and raising 5 kids, don't you have enough already on your plate?

      SpaceX and Tesla are at an iteration stage. The building blocks are already in place and all that is needed is to ramp up production. Just what do you think Mr Musk should do? Micromanage the assembly line like any good CEO?

      CEOs for the most part make strategic decision. The outcomes of those decision often take a while to come to fruition. About the best thing he can do for both Tesla and SpaceX is leave the damn things alone for a year and let the engineers and workers get the gears turning.

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:09AM (#53879393)

    ...we probably need to legalize whatever he's smoking.

  • Good on him (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mean pun ( 717227 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:10AM (#53879395)

    Before all the sour-pusses have their say, I want to say this: good on him.

    Will it work? No idea, but at least he's trying. And betting against Musk is always risky.

    Is he crazy? Since he has so much money, and since he's not destructive, no, he is not crazy, he's eccentric.

    • Re:Good on him (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kiuas ( 1084567 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:39AM (#53879575)

      Will it work? No idea, but at least he's trying.

      With Musk the right question is never 'will it work?" but 'will it make any sense factoring in the costs?'

      In theory something like the Hyperloop is a great idea. Until you realize that the costs and dangers involved in building a several hundred mile vacuum tube, and keeping it depressurized would cost astronomical amounts of money. The test track the built for the recent pod-competition for hyperloop [youtube.com] was less than a mile long and its still the second largest vacuum tube ever built. Took about 30 minutes to depressurize and top speeds were around 60 mph, and that's with them being pushed by an external motor unit, the pods themselves didn't even have functioning engines. The moment the external motor 'released' the pods they pretty much froze, with most of them not even making it across the finish line.

      The practical difficulties in doing this on the scale and speeds that the hyperloop project has been painting (600 MPH over a distance of hundreds of miles) are so enormous especially taking into consideration the kind of safety features that'd have to be included that economically speaking the hyperloop is not going to happen in any foreseeable future barring major technological breakthroughs in vacuum technology and structural engineering. The cost-benefit ratio is simply way too poor.

      Now theoretically, you can eliminate some of the technical issues such as thermal expansion by by burying the hyperloop underground, but that increases the cost even more.

      Is he crazy? Since he has so much money, and since he's not destructive, no, he is not crazy, he's eccentric.

      Agreed. He's an eccentric man with a lot of ideas, some of which turn out to be economically feasible/profitable, while other are not so.

      • Re:Good on him (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ranton ( 36917 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:56AM (#53879667)

        With Musk the right question is never 'will it work?" but 'will it make any sense factoring in the costs?'

        That is the great thing about having billionaires with the curiosity of engineers. Musk is willing to find out if these 'crazy' ideas make any sense factoring in the costs. Let your average VCs fund the companies whose ideas will most likely work. Men like Musk are the ones with the freedom to investigate the ideas which will probably not work, but would be phenomenal if the general wisdom is wrong.

        IMHO Musk is filling in for governments who aren't spending enough on basic research and grand innovative ventures. For these projects it is expected that you will fail far more often than you succeed, which is why traditional investors stay away. I hope Musk keeps up his current pace of innovation for the next 30 years.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Viol8 ( 599362 )

          "That is the great thing about having billionaires with the curiosity of engineers."

          Yes, but a dose of realism helps. His hyperloop would require the longest tunnel ever built by a significant margin, NASA spec pressure vessels and motors that can function in a vacuum and some as yet undecided method of evacuating people from shuttle in a vacuum. The cost alone will be so astromonically high that not even Musk could afford it on his own. It would in real terms probably be equivalent in cost to the moon land

          • The same dose of realism that told people that reusable rockets would never work ?

            Also, in trying to solve these problems you learn a lot of stuff. Even when the project fails, that knowledge can be used in other projects, either related or totally unrelated.

            • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

              "The same dose of realism that told people that reusable rockets would never work ?"

              I'm not saying it won't work, I'm saying the costs will be so ridiculously high for so little benefit that I just don't see the point. Rockets got man into space, somewhere he'd never been before. This gets man from A to B just like an airliner and at the same speed. And thats worth spending trillions on is it? I don't think so.

              If he really wanted to improve US transportation he'd invest in some 200+mph railways that europe

              • I'm not saying it won't work, I'm saying the costs will be so ridiculously high for so little benefit that I just don't see the point.

                With "work" I implied cost effective.

                And thats worth spending trillions on is it?

                No, but he's not spending trillions on it. We're still in the prototype phase, and we'll stay there until he's figured out a way to make it cheaper, or cancel the project.

                But the chance of some useful niche tech as a side effect is hardly reason to blow the amount of money that this will cost

                No, money will be spend to achieve the main goal. But having a few nice side effects could soften the blow of losing the money if the project is cancelled. And vacuum tech will be useful in space or on Mars.

              • by TheSync ( 5291 )

                If he really wanted to improve US transportation he'd invest in some 200+mph railways that europe and japan have had for decades which have pretty much killed off a lot of short distance air routes.

                It is a far longer drive from LA Union Station to SpaceX than LAX to SpaceX...

            • by HuguesT ( 84078 )

              Technically the Shuttle was a reusable rocket, so we know it works.

              Reusable conventional rockets are an interesting concept. Engineers at NASA and ESA thought it would not be economical. NASA and ESA use a small number of large engines each time they send one of their rocket up, and so reusing them means firing one of the large engine for a long time (which damages them and requires significant amounts of fuel that would have been otherwise used to put satellite into orbit). A SpaceX rocket uses a large num

          • The hyper loop is certainly a better idea than the current train to nowhere, though I admit that's not a high standard to clear.
          • What do you mean by "NASA spec pressure vessels"? Air pressure at sea level is only 14.7 psi, which is what's needed to hold a complete vacuum, and Hyperloop doesn't need a perfect clean vacuum.

        • Almost agree with you here. Basic research funding is very high compared to the funding for commercializing that research. Government run basic research funding in USA is larger than the combined amount of Angel and VC funding, despite commercialization being more expensive per project.

          I'm a scientist, and there is a huge backlog of great ideas across many disciplines. Per capita, we start fewer businesses now than at any point in the last 30+ years.

          The larger investment community is addicted to easy wins

      • by torkus ( 1133985 )

        Your post reads exactly like so many others around the first several self-driving car competitions.

        If memory servers not a single entry finished the course in the first competition or two. Everyone thought it was either stupid or impossible except those who went ahead and made it work anyhow.

        Now you can buy a Tesla (oh, look at the coincidence) that includes the tech for full self driving, pending some further software enhancements.

        Will it work? Who knows...but I certainly wouldn't discount it because in

        • Note that, neither Tesla's Autopilot, nor the countless other camera/lidar based solution sold by countless other manufacturer nowadays are self-driving.

          At best, they are exactly what is called an Autopilot for planes and ships : some travelling is automated up to some level by the onboard electronic, but the vessel still must remain under the supervision of the plane's/ship's captain. (i.e.: the captain can't go take a nap. only the electronics is relieveing them from needing to mind the minute detail of p

      • Honestly, it doesn't matter if the tunnel ideas themselves are profitable. Phase 1 (make a better Bore) will make enough money on its own even if phase 2 never pans out, and Phase 1 is a very low cost risk by comparison. The key phrase in the interview is "Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago."

        Musk appears to be an efficiency hound above all else. Find something that sucks but has room for efficiency gains, make it better, and make money on

      • I don't agree or disagree with your characterization of Hyperloop's true costs and risks because I'm not familiar enough with technical details, and because of that I'm curious what your basis is for your assertions.

        You're using the "analysis by analogy" approach, where you say that this is the largest vacuum vessel ever built, and that there are some unspecified safety costs, and that together these necessitate quantum leap of vacuum or structurual technology to solve. Vacuum pumps and structural tech curr

      • Will it work? No idea, but at least he's trying.

        With Musk the right question is never 'will it work?" but 'will it make any sense factoring in the costs?'

        Well, at least it did made sense for several European cities that decided to have their highway bypass *underground*.

        And that not counting the huge number of cities that have their public transportation underground.

        So yeah, definitely worth a try.

        Now will Elon manage to bring something new to the table (e.g.: similar to how SpaceX brought back the idea of reusable space vessels) ?

        Or at least open a new market for some current technology?
        (e.g.: similar to how Tesla manage to introduce the north-american mar

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )
      Randomly digging through the earth can in fact be quite destructive. Just ask anyone who's ever done just that without calling the utilities first, and opened a Natural Gas main. Or anybody living in north-central Fracklahoma [newsok.com]
      • Fracking is totally different than digging because you pump high pressure fluids into the ground, opening up cracks.

        And if you go deep enough, there won't be any gas pipes.

      • I'm wondering about who owns the land he's digging under. I own a few pieces of property and that includes things under the surface. In the states this is pretty common. I'm the last person to want regulation or rules to get in the way of doing something cool and innovative but... does he have the legal right to extract the contents under each of those tracts of land in order to bore a hole and to build a commercial enterprise through that land?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    They sold Instant Hole kits, I think.

  • by getuid() ( 1305889 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:24AM (#53879479) Homepage

    He's already going to space.

    If he gets to build up digging know-how, he'll be the first to actually make a shitload of money off asteroid mining.

    Best part: r&d possibly largelgy paid for by public money (first NASA, and maybe now he can acceds some infrastructure funds or public contracting for the boring part)... That's one hell of a way to hack the system. Go him! :-)

    • Much more money in building a mega telecommunications satellite constellation in low Earth orbit, which SpaceX has been working on for years now. You have 7 billion potential customers. The market for platinum group metals (even if you were able to get as much as you wanted) is globally much smaller and lower value than telecommunications.

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:24PM (#53880611)

      The digging machines might be useful on Mars.

      It almost becomes "Red Mars" if you can put robotic tunneling machines on the planet and create large tunnel galleries ahead of time.

      Once people get there, the exterior holes can be plugged with a few airlocks and then pressurized with a breathable atmosphere. Tunneled structures will give you protections from the atmosphere, meteorites and radiation.

    • If he gets to build up digging know-how, he'll be the first to actually make a shitload of money off asteroid mining.

      The hard part of asteroid mining isn't so much the digging...or even the space part. It's the separating and concentrating. On Earth the minerals we mine were concentrated by eons of geological, hydrological, volcanic and biological processes, none of which took place on a dead asteroid. So, yeah, there's trillions of tons of platinum in them thar asteroids! There's an atom of it over there, and atom over there, an atom over there...

      I have no idea how to solve that problem. Seems like some kind of chemical

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        Force majeure: thermal energy is easy in space. A big sheet of Mylar in a vaguely parabolic shape, and you get temps near the surface of the sun. The hard problem is how to cool the liquid platinum when you're done.

  • by puddingebola ( 2036796 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:27AM (#53879501) Journal
    Stole my idea.
  • I hope he's ready for the protests he's going to encounter when he tries to bore under Lake Oahe....

  • I can't be the only one who thought of the Labyrinthine Worlds [wikia.com] of Simmons' Hyperion Cantos.
  • by Robotbeat ( 461248 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:38AM (#53879573) Journal

    Not mentioned in the summary is the fact that what got Elon moving on this idea was when some of his SpaceX employees were hit by a car crossing the street to their parking structure:

    "A news report about three SpaceX employees who were hit by a car on Dec. 17 after leaving work. The incident occurred at 2:15 a.m. About three hours later, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted the following Tweets:
    @elonmusk Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging..."

    SpaceX has been trying to get a pedestrian bridge built there for a long time, but haven't been able to get permission from the city (blame NIMBYism or just bureaucracy). But with the tunnel, they're able to start digging down without permits on their own land (still need permission once they start digging under the street, of course).

  • Boring (Score:4, Funny)

    by ebcdic ( 39948 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:40AM (#53879585)

    The Yellow Pages here used to have an entry for Boring: "See civil engineers".

  • Musk makes vague claims of having a new tunneling technology, but does he really have a fundamentally faster TBM?

    • He doesn't claim to already have new tunneling tech. He's just done some back of the envelope, first-principles calculations to show it should be possible in theory to go much faster. Typical Musk.

      So does he have a faster TBM right now? Definitely not. It'll be interesting to see if he develops one, though. I suspect just reducing the man-power and increasing the up-time would give a significant boost to performance-to-cost, though. Europeans usually require a lot fewer workers for a similar TBM project tha

      • Europeans usually require a lot fewer workers for a similar TBM project than Americans do. Don't know why that is.

        Labour costs. We automate the shit out of things because labour is expensive. You won't find many valet parkers or doormen in Western Europe either. Not to mention Walmart greeters. Are those for real? How is it possible that a discount store can afford to pay someone to mostly just stand around? It boggles my mind to think of the income disparity that makes such a job possible. What do those people get paid?

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @09:53AM (#53879663)

    Here in Seattle we've had some tunnel boring going on over the past few years - and, based on experience, I believe our tunnelers will tell you there are lots of man-made obstacles deeper down than that.

    • by asylumx ( 881307 )
      Good thing he's not digging in Seattle!
    • You might also have mentioned that your Seattle highway 99 tunnel is on its way to running about $2,000,000,000 a mile .. for two lanes in each direction. There's no reason to believe that auto tunnels under L.A. will be any cheaper. Hyperloop tunnels -- presumably a lot smaller in diameter -- might be a lot cheaper ... maybe ...

      • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

        You might also have mentioned that your Seattle highway 99 tunnel is on its way to running about $2,000,000,000 a mile .. for two lanes in each direction.

        The actual figure for Seattle is half that: $1b/mile for the tunnel. (more precisely, $2.1 billion for a nearly-two-mile tunnel).

        http://www.seattletimes.com/se... [seattletimes.com]

  • Fortune of the day, just at the bottom of the /. page:
    "I am more bored than you could ever possibly be. Go back to work."
    (emphasis is mine)
  • Time to go and catch a few Mahars.

  • Really p(h)unny, Elon. That's what sitting in jam traffic does to you, it makes the mind wander. That's why I try to get a job with less of a commute...
    • Cause I don't have the money to start up ventures like Elon does. Although I'm sure my ideas are just as way out.
  • I'm unclear on what his edge is here, other than maybe he enjoys the idea of digging stuff? Tunnel boring is an existing market with a number of players. Will the borer also install the road? Seems more likely he's trying to cover up the installation of a secret underground lab.

    Up in Ottawa we've been digging tunnel for several years for our new light rail. The machines doing the digging are probably the least complicated part of the project. The real issue is varying soil and rock conditions and trying no
    • But don't pressure balance TBM'S solve that part of the problem? It still takes time to change the "teeth" for those transitions (even different types of rock), but is it that big of an issue for the right equipment?

      Larger diameter holes are easier than small diameter from a logistics standpoint, but directional drilling works... with certain other inefficiencies.

      Maybe Musk would have been better served with a pedestrian bridge/tunnel over to the Metro station than that awful parking garage.
  • "...which would make it low enough to clear gas and sewer lines and to be undetectable at the surface.."

    First, you probably mean DEEP enough?

    And "undetectable at the surface" Sure - unless you nick things like the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage facility (which stores gas as far as 9000 feet down....)
    (cf https://www.washingtonpost.com... [washingtonpost.com])

    Deep-tunnel digging is pretty much 90% about dealing with the unexpected, because that's the part that fucks you quickly, catastrophically, and often lethally.

    That said, I wish h

  • by Necron69 ( 35644 ) <jscott.farrow@gm ... l.com minus poet> on Thursday February 16, 2017 @11:18AM (#53880101)

    People take Musk's jokes too seriously. SpaceX is building a pedestrian underpass to the big SpaceX parking lot that is across a major street (Crenshaw Blvd in Hawthorne). There have been accidents, and a number of SpaceX employees have been hit by cars trying to cross the busy street.

    - Necron69

  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @11:36AM (#53880215)

    Undetectable at just 50ft? Hardly. there are plenty of cases of people in England loosing their homes down sinkholes that appear after some old, forgotten mine hundreds or even thousands of feet down collapses after centuries.
    I find it hard to believe that in California, once you've dug 50 ft down on your own land, absolutely nothing stands in your way (other than geology) to just tunneling wherever and as far as you like.

    If I happen to own some land in CA that Musk wants to tunnel under/through, can he really do so without my permission or even knowledge?

  • by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:18PM (#53880565) Journal

    Solutions like this are classic examples of tech-rich people thinking they have all the answers when there's a whole bank of qualified specialist people already working in that field who know what's really needed to fix the problem but have only been stymied by politics.

    If traffic is driving Musk nuts then the solution is not to find innovative new ways to handle more traffic. The solution is to ask why is traffic so bad in the first place.

    Recommended reading: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jacobs

    Or if that's too heavy, try Suburban Nation: The rise of sprawl and the decline of the American dream.

    Only then will you come to see the culprit: Single Use Zoning, aka the BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) rules. Single-use zoning forces everybody to make several car journeys just to get through a typical day. Going to work? Car. Going out for lunch? Car. Going home form work? Car. Need to go out for a bottle of milk and postage stamp? Car. Going to a movie? Car.

    No bloody wonder the place is flooded with traffic. You try to build a city around the automobile and it becomes a hostile environment for pedestrians and cyclists. You try to widen roads to accommodate more cars and the laws of induced demand kick in, resulting in even more traffic and roads as choked as they were before.

    Learn a few things about urban planning, Elon. Don't arrogantly assume that you're the first person to want to address this problem. Smart growth and sustainable, walkable, transit-oriented development is a far better solution than drilling holes in the ground and cracking puns about the word "boring." It requires years of tedious work and politicking to build support for smart growth. A city is not a private company with which you can do what you like. There are elected councils, public advisory committees, public hearings, tax implications, and all manner of complex bureaucratic hoops that you have to jump through to fix these things.

  • Hopefully not. I wish him the best of luck; but if he ends up as an unkempt recluse I won't be surprised. With a little luck, maybe I can figure out where he will be hitch-hiking... or maybe not. [wikipedia.org]

  • Combine a fast borer with the hyperloop and you could build a gravity train [wikipedia.org] which can travel between stations without needing power.

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