Prufrock Next-Generation Tunnel-Boring Machine Is Working — Somewhere

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On February 23, The Boring Company posted this enigmatic tweet:

You might need to be a student of Boring Company history to understand its significance of that tweet. (If you own a Boring Company flamethrower, feel free to skip the next part).

A Boring History

Several years ago, Elon Musk was stuck in traffic on his way to the Los Angeles International Airport. The delay gave him time to think. When Musk thinks, sparks fly and things happen. The first brainstorm caused by that delay in traffic was the Hyperloop — a fanciful new transportation technology that would feature an electrically-powered capsule wafting along through depressurized tunnels at speeds of 700 miles per hour or more. That’s New York to LA in 4 hours kind of speed.

The Hyperloop idea spawned a number of companies who are trying to turn the dream into reality, but the technology is very futuristic and hard to do. Never one to wait patiently for things to happen, Musk pivoted instead to the notion of digging tunnels through the Earth that would use somewhat conventional vehicles to whisk people from place to place at speeds of 150 mph or so, whizzing along well below the gridlock above their heads.

So he started The Boring Company and purchased a used tunnel boring machine which he named Godot because it was so slow. He was convinced his engineers could take it apart, figure how to make it work better, and put it back together. According to Teslarati, it is believed that is the machine that dug the first test tunnel beneath the streets of Hawthorne, California near SpaceX headquarters.

Boring Company boring machine
Image credit: The Boring Company

After studying Godot, The Boring Company came up with Line Storm, a modified version of a conventional boring machine that is roughly twice as fast but still nowhere near the 10X improvement the indomitable Mr. Musk has in mind. Once again, it is presumed this is the machine used to dig the first of two tunnels in Las Vegas. We say “presumed” because getting the Tesla public relations people to respond to requests for information is a little like waiting for Godot — the literary character, not the tunneling machine.

Prufrock is alleged to be the ne plus ultra of tunneling machines, a whole order of magnitude faster than either Godot or Line Storm. And it is out there somewhere doing what it was designed to do. Perhaps someday, God willing and the creek don’t rise, The Boring Company will release some detailed information about what it is doing and where.

Musk often alludes to popular culture when naming his creations. “Plaid” and “Ludicrous” modes for Tesla automobiles are taken straight from the Mel Brooks movie Space Balls, for instance, and some of the audio controls in his cars go to 11 instead of 10, a reference to another satirical movie “This Is Spinal Tap.” So what is the connection to Prufrock, a literary character invented by T.S. Eliot?

Guessing what Elon has in mind is fraught with danger, especially for mere mortals. However, an online source entitled Grade Saver suggests “[I]t is important to note that Eliot’s brand of Modernist poetry sought to revive the literary past, as he argued for in Tradition and the Individual Talent. His poetry, including Prufrock, is peppered with allusions to the Greeks, Shakespeare, the Metaphysicals, and more. Eliot does not neglect the modern, however; it is often front and center, usually with unfavorable comparisons to the past.”

Is Elon implying that tunneling, which long predated the automobile, is a smarter, better, faster way for humans to get from Point A to Point B, especially in light of the congestion that defines most cities today? Far be it from us to attempt an analysis of the mind of Musk, but the next time he visits CleanTechnica global headquarters for a Sambucca and sushi fest, we will be sure to ask him.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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