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Free Rides Under LA Coming Soon, Then DC To NYC And LA To SF #ElonTweets

Elon Musk has tweeted that the first tunnel under LA is nearly complete, a tunnel from DC to NYC is already started, and one from LA to SF will begin next year. But some experts think he is in over his head.

In a series of tweets yesterday, Elon Musk made a number of bold claims. First, he said the tunnel under Los Angeles is nearly done and the public would be invited to go for free rides under the city soon. Second, he said work on a tunnel linking New York City and Washington, DC, has already begun. Third, he claimed a Hyperloop connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco would begin next year.

Musk also posted a video of the first LA tunnel on Instagram.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BinoVT6Acpd/?utm_source=ig_embed

Frankly, the word “bold” doesn’t begin to describe a polymath like Elon Musk. No wonder he got beaten up regularly in high school. The ordinary kids must have hated having such a smarty pants know-it-all in their midst, especially when he turned out to be right 99% of the time.

Boring Compamy Pod Concept

Boring Company Pod Concept

That second tweet raises a question. Musk is the one who created the whole Hyperloop idea in the first place. Originally, he said it was in the public domain and anyone who wanted to develop it was free to do so. To date, three private companies have taken him up on his offer and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development.

In the past year, Musk has hinted he might get into the game himself. The tunnels being dug under LA are intended primarily for transporting people and bicycles at speeds of up to 150 mph in pods like the one seen above. Not very Hyperloop like. But this latest tweet about traveling from LA to SF faster than a jetliner in a “true @Hyperloop” is something else entirely. Should we expect legal challenges from those other companies now that Musk has decided to compete with them? Stay tuned. Or is the idea just that he’d bore the tunnels and someone else would provide the hyperloop vehicles?

Push Back On Tunneling From People Who Should Know

Herbert Einstein, a tunneling expert and engineering professor at MIT, tells Forbes writer Alan Ohnsman, “His machines that build tunnels look pretty standard. I’ve not seen anything from him that is different from what other people do except for the smaller diameter. What is new, or somewhat new, is that pod, the thing that goes into it and goes over long distances. This really looks like more a vehicle development, rather than tunnel development.”

Einstein is a person of some note in the field of tunnels. He and his colleagues at MIT have developed a “Decision Aids for Tunneling” tool that estimates cost and construction times based on several factors, including project specifications and geology. The tool is used extensively for tunneling projects, especially in Europe.

“Last year I wrote [to Musk] to see if he might be interested in looking at it and getting a cost estimate,” Einstein says, “I never got an answer. When it comes to cost estimates, that’s where you get into trouble because there are always uncertainties. You don’t know the geology; you don’t know the construction process in detail.”

Professor Einstein says small diameter tunnels were originally tried in London more than a century ago, but the idea was abandoned. “Originally the subway cars fit into these things snugly. They don’t do this anymore for safety reasons. You want to be able to evacuate a train when it gets stuck, and quite literally, if the wall is next to the train, you cannot do that.” Hmmm, that seems like a fair point. Of course, if the “train” has exit doors front and rear, the problem is alleviated somewhat.

Never one to be daunted by conventional wisdom, Musk is happiest when he is proving other people wrong. A few years ago, the idea of flying rockets backwards and landing them with millimeter precision at the place where their journey began was thought of as sheer lunacy. Today, such miracles are expected. Is Musk smarter than some MIT egghead named Einstein? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.

 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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