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The Boring Company raises $112M from Musk, early employees (sec.gov)
166 points by rory096 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 182 comments



I hope that this would be a boon for transit costs in America which are ridiculous compared to Europe [0].

But part of the problem lies with transit advocates in the US, who think tech and Elon Musk are a threat to transit. [1]

0: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...

1: https://twitter.com/humantransit/status/941386665519595521


It’s hard to take him seriously in terms of mass transit when he talks about vacuum trains as though they’re not a terrible idea. Then you remember he owns a company that plans to ultimately replace airlines in some markets with rockets, and a car company, and a person not overly taken with his “charisma” wonders if his interest in mass transit is in scuttling it.

If he was serious about mass transit there are existing, proven technologies he could get behind with his billions, rather than hyperloop. Instead he proposes a technology that is entrancing to people who don’t know enough about engineering and physics, and that is exciting. Unfortunately the tech isn’t workable, it’s just exciting, but it could take a decade or more for that to become apparent to most people.

Wikipedia has an excellent article which lays out the history of the concept going back to the 18th century. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vactrain

I love the understatement of “prohibitively expensive” too, very droll. Any experimentalist who has worked with strong vacuums knows how absurd the idea of a hyperloop is at this point. The expense, the maintence costs, the airlocks, the pumps, all would be an incredible expense that could never be recouped in the builder’s lifetime. The actual tunneling would have to be totally revolutionary too, with incredibly long, nearly straight sections. The turning radius would have to be on the order of of a commercial airliner’s turning radius, which is absurd.

Credit to the man though, it hits that sweet spot requiring specialist knowledge to see through the hype, much like promises of nuclear fusion as a major power source within a couple of decades. The big idea is so attractive, and the problems all involve technical details. It’s not quite a con, but it’s close.


Hyperloop is near vacuum, not vacuum.

When assessing Musk's success, note that Tesla has singlehandedly pushed the entire auto industry towards electric vehicles. Before Tesla, electric vehicles were funny experimental things for hipsters. Very few people bought electric cars, and when they did it was usually only as a second car that could drive 100 miles around town. Virtually no major manufacturer were planning on changing that.

After Model 3, all major car manufacturers are changing their product development and production lines to make electric vehicles. It's now clear to everybody involved that in a number of years, it will only, or almost only, be electric vehicles.

Even if Tesla were to end up being a company that only sells a few hundred thousands cars per year, their impact will have been several orders of magnitude bigger. At the end of the next decade, tens of millions of electric cars will be produced every year and Tesla is the company that not only showed the way but forced an entire industry to go in that direction.

Now, why on Earth would Musk not be interested in promoting mass transit? Tesla is unlikely to produce 50 million cars yearly anyways, and - so far - electric vehicles are more expensive than ordinary cars and not much more suitable for dense city traffic than ordinary cars (although the cost is going down and although self-driving capabilities may change that a bit). But for many years to come, it's unlikely that the Boring Company or the Hyperloop is going to cannibalize on Tesla's market.


> Before Tesla, electric vehicles were funny experimental things for hipsters. Very few people bought electric cars,

You're forgetting the biggest competitor to all-electric, the oil industry which lobbied against all-electric cars. GM had an all electric car in the 90's but people were only allowed to lease them.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Killed_the_Electric_Car%3F


GM's mediocre EV1 electric car was not going to turn the car industry inside out. The battery technology wasn't even remotely close to ready to enable EVs to replace fossil-fuel vehicles. That includes both production scale capabilities, and the 60-100 mile range of the EV1. It was the Li-ion electronics industry that made today's EV industry possible.

Telsa is what changed the industry. It wasn't subtle, it rattled every car maker into action. They demonstrated the technology was ready, such that you could build a full, proper replacement EV vehicle. A car people actually wanted to buy and drive. Further, the Model S being reviewed as one of the greatest cars ever made, made it clear that you could actually build an extraordinary EV vehicle. Not a hybrid, not a 30 or 60 mile battery joke, a full replacement. GM restarted their EV program entirely because of Tesla.


At least 95% of the credit should go to small electronics driving investment in battery technology.

And then they still aren't good enough for electric cars to make much sense to people spending their money carefully. But that happens in years not decades.


> Hyperloop is near vacuum, not vacuum.

Hyperloop is envisioned to run in 100Pa of pressure. According to the Wikipedia page on vacuum, that is considered "medium vacuum." It's also quite close to the region where offgassing and vapor pressure is going to be a major component of the ambient pressure, which is where you start needing complex vacuum pumps.


> When assessing Musk's success, note that Tesla has singlehandedly pushed the entire auto industry towards electric vehicles.

No, it hasn't. First, because the long-term arc was in that direction anyway, and second because the whole industry hasn't adopted that as the short-term arc.

Tesla has single-handedly raised the near-term prominence of battery-powered all-electric vehicles, sure.


No, it pretty much has. And this is independent of any long-term arc.

The main competitor German car manufacturers see (internally) is Tesla. This is what they fear right now.


>After Model 3, all major car manufacturers are changing their product development and production lines to make electric vehicles

This does not comport with reality. The Nissan Leaf, for example, came out a full 7 years before the first Model 3. The only thing unique about Tesla's electric vehicles is their willingness to lose many billions of dollars producing them.


> Tesla has singlehandedly pushed the entire auto industry towards electric vehicles.

I would say they led the industry by 2-3 years because of capabilities of making losses (actually not, Chevy bolt came before model 3).

What made electric cars possible is cheap batteries, otherwise they'd have built model3 right out the gate. And Tesla didn't make batteries cheap, consumer electronics did. Tesla doesn't even make battery cells, they buy them from panasonic


That’s like saying Apple didn’t transform the cell phone industry but only led the industry by 2-3 years before Android followed.

Or that Apple didn’t innovate because they merely used known technologies like phones, batteries, and touch screens.


Except apple made products for profit which others could have but didn't.

Tesla made cars at loss, which others really couldn't.

But at the core of it, Tesla has the hype of Elon musk, and no other car manufacturer can pull that off.


> Tesla doesn't even make battery cells, they buy them from panasonic

What is the Gigafactory doing then? I thought it was all about batteries.


Gigafactory is a factory from Panasonic, plus a contract with Tesla that allows Tesla to put its sticker on it. Panasonic also produces batteries for Tesla models in its Japanese factories.

Musk is brilliant at this kind of marketing. Did you know he actually didn't found either Tesla or SpaceX himself?


To be fair, the original Hyperloop proposal is not actually a vactrain. Instead, it's something that manages to be worse than a vactrain, and so everyone who is actually interested in making it work is basically turning it back into a vactrain.


existing, proven technologies he could get behind with his billions

Whether hyperloop is feasible, he's pretty clearly gunning for future, unproven technologies, and very much on purpose.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to spend your billions on trying to find new technologies.


He making his money on cars with lithium batteries, and chemical rockets. That’s where he’s spending and making his billions. He’s dropping 3.8% of his recent $2.6 billion award on this project.


Wow. You are either willfully ignorant at best or deliverately spreading false info at worst.

Musk's Tesla package is performance based. He only get 'paid' by stock if he meets some ridiculously hard performance benchmark (ie, literally have to make Tesla the the most valuable company in the world). Not only that we won't get stock options if he doesnt meet those goals, he can't sell stock for a long period of time to make sure the stock valuation is not a temp spike. Also he doesnt get paid a single penny even if tesla stock performs somewhat better or even stays the same.


You kinda missed the main point. Musk's business is focused entirely on improving existing, proven, old technologies.


Like digging tunnels under populated areas to make new rights-of-way?


Not entirely. He has delivered a number of “firsts”, such as rockets that land upright, and is about to deliver more: the satellite internet business will operate a constellation of satellites that is vastly larger than all satellites currently in orbit. This means they can only be automatically controlled.

Frankly, even just delivering one innovation of this magnitude is impressive, being able to do it again and again deserves respect and admiration.



Satellite internet is not new. Flying and controlling thousands of satellites most definitely is new, however.


Viaweb, oneweb etc do this. And it may be an operational challenge, not nothing revolutionary


Nobody flies thousands of satellites right now. There are about 1200 satellites in orbit _total_. And nobody controls their satellite constellations fully automatically. And even if OneWeb does end up launching its constellation, this is only viable with a reusable rocket fleet which is manufactured and operated by their main competitor. So I’m skeptical.


DC-X was a nineties rocket that flew and landed on its tail. It was not orbital though.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzXcTFfV3Ls


All right. “Orbital rockets that land upright”. Better now?


You kinda missed the main point. Musk's business is focused entirely on improving existing, proven, old technologies.

So we’re all in agreement then, very good.


It’s kind of like saying that a motorcycle is an “improved bicycle”.


It's more like saying a self-balancing bicycle is an improved bicycle.


There were separate technologies. Orbital rockets. Rockets with kerosene gas generator engines or balloon tanks or aluminium lithium tanks already. There were rockets that landed on their tail. These technologies were all combined into one.


That's a very narrow, opinionated restriction of the term technology, but accepting it for the sake of argument, isn't that what Engineers do?


Engineers do all kinds of things, including wild leaps in technology.

However, what he's actually done is make slightly better rockets and slightly better electric cars. He's not working on hyperloop, he's working on the more certain stuff.


It's not like he was already paid that, he only gets paid that if the company hits incredibly aggressive milestones that would render that amount a rounding error.


That you think Tesla is solely a money making venture via automobiles is telling. It's a car company that could reduce our world's impact on the environment substantially over time. It is a vehicle (ha) for battery and charging technology, and for AI via their research in driver assist.

It isn't unreasonable for a tech billionaire with civilization defining aspirations to want to make better cars, build better batteries, and improve public transit all at once.


For sure Musk has an incredible carisma which seems at this point to have grown to rival the reality distortion field of Jobs. All the other claims remain to be proven.


That’s all very much not what I see when I look at Tesla, it’s just the marketing. The reality is someone getting another $2.6 billion, while desperate-to-believe people cheer him on because they think it’s part of a master plan to save them. I’m not part of the Church of Musk, sorry, I’m an empiricist.


> and a person not overly taken with his “charisma” wonders if his interest in mass transit is in scuttling it.

No, you’re just a run-of-the-mill conspiracist, and cynic.

To note, he actually hasn’t thrown in with hyperloop, he open sourced he idea for people to iterate. He literally just thinks he can build a cheaper tunnel, and I haven’t seen any serious proposals to run hyperloops through them.


>No, you’re just a run-of-the-mill conspiracist, and cynic.

May be those are not really bad. We are living in a time where stuff that conspiracist, and cynics have been saying for years turning out to be true...

Also, while you accuse them, are you sure you are just not being a true believer of the cult of Elon Musk


> No, you’re just a run-of-the-mill conspiracist, and cynic.

In a time where just being skeptical of Musk gets you attacked, I am not sure you have the authority to say anybody else is run-of-the-mill. He may be a cynic, but the mainstream sentiment towards Musk is almost church-like, so generally people outside of that are not in the majority.

Look, I get it, nobody else seems to be doing exciting tech lately and Musk is certainly not doing CRUD apps, so I see where the excitement is coming from, but I also see a lot of fanaticism and PR bullshit around Musk, so I'd say some amount of skepticism is well placed.


Read Bloomberg, WSJ, Fox, heck NYT, Washington Post for articles critical of him or his ventures. He got a lot of PR for sure, but he's hardly worshiped in the mainstream.

> Look, I get it, nobody else seems to be doing exciting tech lately and Musk is certainly not doing CRUD apps, so I see where the excitement is coming from, but I also see a lot of fanaticism and PR bullshit around Musk, so I'd say some amount of skepticism is well placed.

Skepticism is always healthy, but dropping false facts like this is not: "He making his money on cars with lithium batteries, and chemical rockets. That’s where he’s spending and making his billions. He’s dropping 3.8% of his recent $2.6 billion award on this project"

Also, aren't we getting infinite streams of what Google, Amazon, FB, Apple, Microsoft are up to? Count how many articles on HN about Tesla vs. Google?


Have you come across the idea that "All advertising is good advertising".

Even people blaming/skeptical or even hating on Elon Musk is doing good PR for Musk and his companies.

What something like Musk cannot afford is indifference from people. So the important task for something like Musk is to get people talk about them. It does not really matter if it good or bad.


> We are living in a time where stuff that conspiracist, and cynics have been saying for years turning out to be true..

We also live in a time where stuff that conspiracists and cynics have been saying for years is absolute bullshit. Don't fall victim to confirmation bias.


>We also live in a time where stuff that conspiracists and cynics have been saying for years is absolute bullshit.

We are also living in a time where things like ubeam and Theranos can get millions in funding..and various nefraious schems that intend to take the naive public for a ride...

May be, don't fall for that..


Once upon a time, it was completely preposterous to think that a human could fly in the air.

When I'm worth $20Billion+ from building technologies that have already impacted the world, then maybe people will take me seriously!


Empirically, what other US car company is making as big of a difference in greening transport?

No car company, particularly in the US, is in even the same league as Tesla when it comes to advancing electric cars. “Oh, but it’s just a niche”... the Model 3 is already outselling the Bolt, and the Model 3 has a lower base price and is just at the beginning of the ramp up curve.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Other car makers are perfectly capable of building EVs & the associated infrastructure. Musk isn’t magic, but empirically no one else really seems to care. So of course people just tear down the only company actually doing something significant here, because modern intellectual discourse is primarily about “deconstruction” and cynicism.


> Empirically, what other US car company is making as big of a difference in greening transport?

Assuming you're not fixated on "car company" per se (because why should corporate form matter), then Janette Sadik-Khan and NYCDoT have probably made a bigger difference in greening US transport than Tesla to date. And worldwide, of course, there are countless contenders.

"Greening" is only half the battle: the other half is liveable cities and streets. Personal motor transport makes that worse, whether electric or internal combustion. If Musk delivers on better public transport then Tesla can claim some credit there, but as yet there's nothing to show.


Sure, let's pretend the Prius hasn't been around for 2 decades making eco-friendly cars fashionable...


Prius proves my point. It ain’t electric (and therefore it’s only a marginal improvement, not one with the potential for utter decarbonization...), but it has everything needed. It proves that traditional automakers could be making EVs left and right, but they aren’t. Oh, and Toyota isn’t US.

Seriously, put a bigger battery in an old Prius, add a charger, and hack the firmware to keep the engine off (and enable higher speed electric), and you have a full EV at even highway speeds. So why didn’t they do it but Tesla has? It’s amazing how much crap Tesla gets even though they’re the only ones with the guts to go full electric (and thus potentially zero emissions... already better than Priuses without being, you know, Priuses).


> Seriously, put a bigger battery in an old Prius, add a charger, and hack the firmware to keep the engine off (and enable higher speed electric), and you have a full EV at even highway speeds. So why didn’t they do it but Tesla has?

Because fanboys don't buy vehicles if somebody else sells it, just look at Chevy bolt. They need the futuristic hype of full self driving and the patented saving the planet. And also, Tesla can afford selling at a loss, nobody else can.


I drive an EV not made by Tesla. GM barely markets the Bolt/Volt (which are great cars) at all, mostly just trying to reach other EV buyers. GM also lobbies against any fuel economy standards.

But suppose you’re right, that the only way Tesla has been able to sell so many EVs is by fanboyism, by Musk’s hype machine. But that then deserves your praise not derision, as Musk has been able to make EVs cool to the masses. If EVs must be hyped to gain traction, and Musk successfully hyped them, then Musk deserves the credit even more.


For that yes he does deserve praise.

For lies about self driving, for horrible working conditions, for the endless stupid statements about v automation/ai in general, and for causing an obnoxious fan base, there is criticism.

Just because Tesla made cars cool doesn't mean they get to create the narrative that no one else wants to make electric cars


> Just because Tesla made cars cool doesn't mean they get to create the narrative that no one else wants to make electric cars.

Tesla isn't creating that narrative, their competitors are. None of the major US car makers really do want to make electric cars, that's just a fact. And few others do, with the exception of maybe BMW, chinese firms, and nissan, but even there you have slow-rolled updating to EV. Porsche is serious about it, but also are not trying to make a mass market anything.


My point was that making EV vehicles that aren't susbstandard in their features (interior materials) and sell at a good price wasn't profitable. Batteries+Motors were too costly. Tesla managed as their fanboys would buy costly cars of substandard quality.

Now you'll see that dozens of electric cars will roll out in 2018-2022. But you'll come out and tell me that Tesla showed these guys that electric cars were possible.

Ever wonder why Nissan leaf always had a small range and wasn't "fun" to drive? because batteries and motors are costly.


Keeping them unfashionable


The problem is usually the smug owners.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFn1WEaYY3A https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIjnmVkzOM4

And Telsa, whilst more innovate than a Prius seems to have created latest generation of smugness (at least it seems that way on Twitter and their new model 3).


If a reputation for asshole owners was a problem, how would BMW still be in business?


Rich, cocky assholes. Not smug weenie assholes. People defer to the former.


> That you think Tesla is solely a money making venture via automobiles is telling

as opposed to you, who very rationally spews the cult of musk kool-aid.


The CO2 impact of your car driving is much less than impact from heating-cooling, and probably also from your diet. Cars are efficient machines. Houses are rarely built well, especially in the US, and the production of common US diet ingredients is ridiculously inefficient but heavily subsidized.


The overall consuming emissions contribution of the transport sector is at around 20%. The building sector (hvac) seems to be similar.

Cars are not efficient machines. The engine is limited to around 50% efficiency, the heat is wasted. And you're typically propelling 1600+kg of mass which is almost purely overhead.


Heating and cooling trumps the transport sector with 30%+. Globally, stuff does skew a lot from our first worldly habits.

If you do the calculations similar to those done in http://withouthotair.com/ you'd see your first worldly habits put your heating and cooling at the top, and probably your diet at the second place.


Energy use is not the same as CO2 production. Cars produce a lot of CO2 in the oil extraction, transport, and refining stages. Heating and AC use wind, solar, electric, nuclear, etc not just fossil fuels.


So because transportation is not the top CO2 impact industry, no changes to it can have a substantial impact on the environment?


When profiling are we optimizing the fastest functions?


Transport sector is quite more than cars tho. Tankers especially are a mess.


You do understand that the Boring company tunnels will first benused by electric platforms rather then the hyperloop concept.

That's why the call it a 'loop' rather then a 'hyperloop'.

The tunnels however could letter be used for the hyperloop if the tech pans out.


Great response. I’ve been disappointed by HN and it’s fairly credulous acceptance of Musk despite all the hallmark traits of hucksterism. It’s refreshing to get cogent and precise criticism.

As someone who closely follows Tesla, I would love to hear your critique of its current state and likely fate.


calling tesla a car company is a mistake right there. it's like calling emacs a text editor.


HSR in high density areas sound like a good idea.

Metros, suburban light rails, BRT sound good in Urban areas.

Better than building thousands of underground tunnels.


Mars transportation prototype is what I've always assumed the hyperloop idea really is. Prove the tech at scale on earth first while giving people a new high-speed rail system, then deploy ver 2 in the Martian environment.


It seems like it's going to be a long time before there is enough population on Mars that they need a mass transit system.


But in Mars you already have low pressure density. Can you not just run regular HSR there?


Only if everyone is expected to be wearing space suits.

I wasn't thinking the engineering of the tube, more the vehicles operating within. Assuming that there's a desire to have plain-clothed passengers.

On mars or the moon you might have separated habitats connected by rail, the cars themselves could utilize the mature tech from that old hyperloop thing we've been relying on for decades and millions of passengers use every day, etc..


Umm what?

There is still regular air pressure in a HSR. My question is why run something in vacuum when you can just run it in the regular low pressure


What proven mass transit technologies should Elon get behind with his billions?


I'm pretty sure Boring is building digging machines for a Mars colony just designed and tested on Earth.


> it hits that sweet spot requiring specialist knowledge to see through the hype

Couldn't have said it better. Another real life manifestation of this is the vertical rocket landing thing. People are flabbergasted when they see one landing, despite the fact that we regularly employ control systems that are as sophisticated (or more) than required to land a rocket vertically.

When they see them landing. they "feel" like they are witnessing sci fi, for real, and they worship the man behind it as their new (false?) prophet.

And then there is the mars thing, and space tourism. But the most blatent display of this I have yet seen is the 'bio weapon defense mode' [1] in Tesla cars.

[1] https://www.theverge.com/2015/9/30/9421719/tesla-model-x-bio...


I have to take issue with your example. I don't buy into the Musk hype and I even have a big short position in Tesla, but that landing was one of the coolest tech demos I've seen.

Do you have examples of equally sci-fi looking control systems?


His point was that control theory is a mature field and that we field very sophisticated control systems in daily life that may be far beyond what's needed to land a rocket vertically. However, the vast majority of those systems are embedded in industrial machinery that doesn't seem particularly exciting from the outside.

Engineering students build inverted pendulum control systems all the time for fun and for class projects: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWJHcI7UcuE

If it helps, bear in mind that John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace was landing rockets vertically about 17 years ago. And that was a garage operation of about 5 people.


I get the point but presentation is just as important as technical details. You have to show the people.


How about the vertical landings that happened in the early '90s?


The point of the landing is to drastically reduce the cost of space launch, not to impress people with a snazzy demo. With disposable rockets, 80% of the launch cost is the throwaway first stage.


> not to impress people with a snazzy demo.

Never said it was their intention.


The largest reason for the high construction costs is probably union featherbedding and contractual mismanagement [0].

There's no indication that The Boring Company is capable of meaningful cost reduction in this regard. The actual cost of physical material in constructing tunnels is a relatively small cost of the project (note that most of the cost in a subway isn't the subway tunnels themselves, it's the subway stations). The only meaningful idea I've seen about cutting costs from The Boring Company is recovering TBMs, which strongly suggests there's no sense of why tunnels themselves cost money [1].

If Musk just talked about being able to build tunnels cheaper, even transit enthusiasts would have a hard time bringing themselves to care. But between Hyperloop and his underground road conveyance thingy, it's quite clear that he has no idea how to build any high-capacity transit [2]. It seems as if he cares far more about "how do I get me from A to B most effectively" rather than "how do I get a million people from A to B most effectively," and moreover, that he doesn't even realize that those are different questions that necessitate different answers.

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...

[1] TBMs are largely unrecovered because it costs too much to recover them. You can't back them up without risking geological stability of the above ground, and digging a cut-and-cover shaft to reach them is quite expensive.

[2] On fixed-guideway systems, the capacity is largely dictated by station dwell time and switch fouling time, which governs the minimum headway between adjacent consists. Consequently, you need high capacity through consist to get any meaningful capacity. But the Hyperloop pods and the road sleds both envision ultra-low consist capacity, consequently killing total throughput. Incidentally, higher speeds also reduce capacity.


TBMs are frequently recovered and extracted now.

http://metrotunnel.vic.gov.au/construction/building-the-tunn...


I disagree. I think the Boring Company FAQ addresses both labor and station costs fairly directly.

Labor: they want to increase automation so there are fewer workers needed, and tunnel faster so they can pay for fewer hours of work.

Stations: they do not want to make expensive subterranean stations, and instead just want small stations at the surface. People have questioned the throughput, but I think throughput appears reasonable if 1 car can leave every 0.5 minutes vs a normal station in which 10 cars leave every 5 minutes


> Labor: they want to increase automation so there are fewer workers needed, and tunnel faster so they can pay for fewer hours of work.

Musk has not had a great track record of reducing costs by increasing automation.

See: https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/13/17234296/tesla-model-3-ro...


> Stations: they do not want to make expensive subterranean stations, and instead just want small stations at the surface.

This is essentially saying "let's save money by cutting costs on the cheap part of the project and increase the most expensive part of the project several fold."

The cost of a bored tunnel is largely dictated by its length (essentially, length determines how much infrastructure you need--cabling, shielding, drainage, etc.; cross-section determines the scale of this infrastructure) [1]. A car elevator access shaft is going to be a very time-consuming vertical cut via excavators, where depth is going to be the driving dimension in cost.

Of course, throughput comes back to bite you: how long does it take cars to make it up and down the elevator shaft? A vehicle elevator might make 1 foot per second, or somewhere in the region of a 4 minute round trip per vehicle if the tunnel is 100 ft deep [2]. A regular highway lane has a capacity of ~2000 cars per hour, so you need 266 elevators to fill and empty it [3]. Of course, the capacity of rapid transit is ~20,000 people per hour in the same tunnel space, so you really need over a thousand elevators. When you take into account acceleration/deceleration lanes for well over a thousand elevators, is that really cheaper digging than a dozen cavernous stations?

[1] Cutting the diameter of a tunnel in half does not cut its construction costs by 75%, more like 25-50%. Construction costs are closer to linear in diameter than linear in cross-sectional area.

[2] The other really, really big omission in the FAQ is the lack of discussion of the consequence of depth. Vertical circulation is already a tricky issue with what we construct today, and the space-hungry nature of SOV-centric design compounds the problem tremendously. 100 ft is sort of the highest level I'm assuming is in play here, since that's about as high as you can go without running into the sewers and extant mass transit lines. Going deeper of course makes the vertical circulation numbers even worse.

[3] This assumes that you only build one elevator to service both directions.


Those are good questions to ask (particularly what the best construction technique is for vertical shafts), but I think your numbers for the elevators are wildly wrong. Firstly, there should be no real reason for the tunnels to be deeper than about 30-50 feet because sewers and utilities are all concentrated at backhoe depth, which is shallower even than that and building foundations are pretty easy to avoid. The biggest driving factor in depth is probably disruption to the surface during tunelling, which requires staying ~2 tunnel diameters underground. That cuts your elevator time estimates by 2-3x. Secondly, 1ft/s is really slow, both by the standards of other elevators in the world and in comparison to their own demonstrated prototypes. The car elevator they demonstrated in July 2017 appears to move around 3-5ft/s once it gets up to speed [0], and I expect that number to only increase, particularly if the shaft gets deeper. Human elevators reach speeds up to 50ft/s in tall buildings, and while there's no need anytime soon for the Boring Company to hit those kinds of insane speeds, there don't seem to be fundamental reasons they couldn't if they needed to.

[0]: https://youtu.be/9jvD_dFA44g

Combined, those factors imply your numbers are close to an order of magnitude off, and imply a reasonable number of elevators in the 30ish range. There are real challenges they need to solve, but I don't think elevator times or count are one of them.


Not OP, but:

>Firstly, there should be no real reason for the tunnels to be deeper than about 30-50 feet because sewers and utilities are all concentrated at backhoe depth, which is shallower even than that and building foundations are pretty easy to avoid.

Well, this assumes a flat geography. At highway speeds, nobody likes steep grades in either direction, so at the top of a hill, you'd need a deeper elevator to get to the tunnel network. Today's metro systems also prefer to move people down to the trains with escalators or elevators at hilly areas.

>Combined, those factors imply your numbers are close to an order of magnitude off, and imply a reasonable number of elevators in the 30ish range. There are real challenges they need to solve, but I don't think elevator times or count are one of them.

Even if the elevators teleported you to the tunnel, there is still a loading and unloading time involved. This is true of human transporting elevators as well.

It takes 9.5 seconds for an average car, say a Toyota Corolla, (https://www.caranddriver.com/toyota/corolla) to accelerate onto the highway today. The elevator needs to beat that time (loading, accelerating to move down, decelerating, unloading, and accelerating into the tunnel network itself) or throughput is no better than on a standard highway. And on an on-ramp today, cars don't have to wait for the other car to fully enter the freeway.


I pulled my numbers for vehicle elevators by looking at the website of someone who sells vehicle elevators (which said 30-120fpm). Vehicle elevators are slower than human elevators, partly because vehicles are much, much heavier. I suspect most vehicle elevators are going to have to be hydraulic drives, not cable-driven. There's also acceleration to worry about, but short elevator spans are not going to let you build to full speed anyways.

Depth is trickier to reason about. The Boring Company's FAQ explicitly states that "There is no practical limit to how many layers of tunnels can be built, so any level of traffic can be addressed." This suggests that they generally want multiple layers of tunnel. As a matter of practice, most major cities already have underground rapid transit systems that already occupy space. As you go higher, you have to worry about the complex geometry. Because of the inherent lower capacity of the system, you also need an order of magnitude more tunnels, which is going to push you deeper anyways.

Even if you think my numbers are close to 10× off, the capacity advantage of rapid transit is still looking closer to 10×. The advantage of transit over SOVs is simply that large.


Automation is incredibly expensive. It is not a cost reduction.


Whether it is a cost reduction depends entirely on your variable cost, mostly labor.

If you are paying a laborer $3/hour it may not be cost effective, if you are paying $50 w/benefits it may be a huge cost saver.


Could you get a glossary or thesaurus for your notes?


featherbedding: jobs without responsibility, so they're basically solely to give someone a paycheck

TBM: Tunnel Boring Machine, the main piece of equipment in building deep tunnels

cut-and-cover: a way of building tunnels that consists of building a trench and then putting a roof over it

fixed-guideway: basically, anything that's a railroad or has similar constraints (such as a monorail)

switch fouling: fouling a switch means to have a train over it so that you can't change which direction it goes to

headway: time between successive consists. 5min headway means one train arrives every 5 minutes

consist: a set of cars that all move together as a fixed unit

I think that's all the terms that people might not immediately understand.


TIL featherbedding ~= sinecure


>I hope that this would be a boon for transit costs in America which are ridiculous compared to Europe [0].

What is special about America's underground bedrock, compared to Europe's, that today's existing tunnel boring technology cannot solve in America, leading to high costs?

>But part of the problem lies with transit advocates in the US, who think tech and Elon Musk are a threat to transit. [1]

Transit advocates, like Jarrett Walker (as you linked), who view public transit in the US (of the "put a bunch of people on a bus or train" type) as a service that is already useful but often deficiently funded and poorly maintained, are extremely rational to be wary, especially when technologists like Elon Musk view transit as primarily a highway-building exercise. Elon's original vision for The Boring Company was basically a re-skinned highway tunnel. Instead of onramps and offramps you have elevators, and instead of "cars" traveling on "roads" you get high speed cars traveling inside tunneled roads. His most recent announcement, to "prioritize pedestrians over cars" (https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/972245615735222273), looks an awful lot like a bus that runs on a freeway. To transit advocates this just looks like more of the same.


It's labour cost and legal cost. The actual construction isn't more expensive in the US than it is in Europe.


Musk's idea is _incredible_ and I really think it has the potential to take off with American car culture. However, I think that might be it's biggest downfall, too. In many aspects, from environmentally friendliness to ridership growth, I think mass public transit would scale better than individuals owning their own vehicle.


Some back of the napkin calculation that I made some months ago, hopefully still useful to think about where the Boring Company is going : https://medium.com/the-naked-founder/elon-musks-boring-compa...


Nice article but I would point out that many of the very long and/or deep tunnels are built for railroads instead of cars, precisely to lower the diameter necessary (no exhaust needed, no hard shoulder).


$100M. Same amount at Musk’s personal investment in both SpaceX and in Tesla.


Same initial investment. Both Tesla and SpaceX have far more from him now.


Really? Musk started with $200M from PayPal, invested half in each, according to reports. There is nothing left to invest after doing that.


I think the huge thing that most people miss is that Elon isn’t trying to fix the earth’s problems. Elon is using the earth and other people’s money to bootstrap all of the things he needs to live on Mars. Every single one of his projects is in some facet working on a tech that is needed on Mars.

SpaceX gets you there.

Tesla gets you around there and batteries store power.

Solar City because batteries.

Boring Company to dig tunnels and create radiation safe locations for humans on mars.

Hyperloop cross country transport that doesn’t work well in our atmosphere but makes much more sense on Mars.

I think he is all consumed by his vision of humans surviving on mars and thriving. And when you look at things from this view suddenly his crazy becomes less crazy.


"most people miss" that because that isn't what he says he is trying to do. Musk has said on several occasions that he is trying to fix some of the earth's problems.

By all means, speculate on Elon Musk's hidden psyche, but don't expect everyone to agree when the man himself says something different.


I could agree with some of it. But he’s also said many times that he feels the only way to keep humans from going extinct is to make humanity a multi-planetary species, so while he maybe trying to fix some things his pretty clearly stated goal is to get humans off this rock permanently.

http://earthsky.org/space/elon-musk-mars-manifesto-humans-mu...


> multi-planetary species

...That means fix Earth too. We / he certainly doesn't want to trade Earth for Mars. Mars is just a good place to store a backup of humanity.


I read the Wait But Why series about Musk where the author had a lot of one-on-one time with Musk, and he basically said that's what's going on. It's just too complicated for twitter, that's why he doesn't talk about it there.


Musk isn't limited to Twitter. ;) There are many good long-form videos (interviews, lectures, Q&As) on youtube. An oldie but a goodie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uegOUmgKB4E

If you think Musk doesn't care about Earth problems, check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKCuDxpccYM

Wait But Why is certainly popular, but it's not good at delimiting where Elon Musk's words end and Tim Urban's speculation begins. I also found oversimplifications and even downright inaccuracies. I'd recommend treating it as an introduction to Elon Musk's thinking, not as some final revelation.


I don’t know. It actually seems wasteful to transport batteries to Mars. I’d want to figure out if I could build a fuelcell that would work on Mars and be replenished with chemicals/elements plentiful on Mars. Only if that was impossible would I consider batteries.


Why transport them? Build them there.


> fuelcell

Sort of like a battery?


OK, now explain how OpenAI and Neuralink fits in.


I'm not saying I agree/disagree with the parent, but I think if you view Musk's motivations though that lens OpenAI and Neuralink still make sense.

He seems to think AI is coming very soon and could destroy humanity if it isn't handled correctly. It would be hard to colonize Mars with humans if they are all extinct. Neuralink is part of his solution to AI.


The reasons the Hyperloop doesn't work well would require a separate forum to list. It seems a bit biased to simply say "because of Earth's atmosphere".


What other problems are there with the hyperloop other than creating a really large volume of vacuum and getting in and out of it?


Imagine if life had evolved on Mars, and we were sitting on that planet looking at that beautiful blue orb off in the distance. How much quicker would we have become multi-planetary then?

I just can't imagine that there will be masses trying to leave this planet in search of that dry red hellhole. This is a cool endeavor, it's an impressive undertaking, I'm glad we are doing it. But fuck, the Earth is awesome.


Given that framing, I wonder if he will start on food production soon


His brother, Kimbal, is involved with square Roots, doing modular LED hydroponics systems for growing local fresh veggies anywhere.


His restaurants in Boulder Colorado are great.

https://www.thekitchenbistros.com/


Indoor food production(greenhouses, hydroponics, 3d farms) is already solved on Earth. I think the infrastructure to support it is the hard part.



i have followed Elon almost since the zip days and this is the first time i've seen someone put it together like this. Makes Total Sense.

Add to the list the StarLink project. Allows them to have worldwide communication on mars.

This is certainly connecting the dots.


loving his ideas, it's crazy now but in the future it might be very useful


What does the boring company make? I saw bits of it as a bit of a joke... ?

Is it Musk's approach of making a traditional company and flipping it on its head?


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boring_(earth)

The company name is somewhat tongue in cheek, but also apparently straight up literal in some sense.


they make tunnels and outfit them for various modes of transportation. it's not a joke. i can't imagine any better way to make it clear that something isn't a joke than to put $100 million into it.


Is $100m really enough to build a state of the art boring machine and get all equipment/labour to actually build a tunnel?


That's just shy of the cost of building (drilling?) the longest road tunnel in the world, in Norway, which has really high labour costs. So I'd guess it goes a long way (pun intended).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lærdal_Tunnel


Enough to get started and enough to get more money eventually. Its a market, lets see how it gone go.


I have no idea what $100m is enough for, all I know is that Elon Musk gets more done per dollar than anyone else alive.


Really? Care to give some examples?


Yes, SpaceX and Tesla.


You said words, but there's no substance, how does SpaceX and Tesla in any way prove that "Elon Musk gets more done per dollar than anyone else alive" exactly?


Well, they take dirt and turn it in to a big, long, nothing. AKA a tunnel.


Elon is doing way too much context switching between Tesla, SpaceX, and The Boring Company even though he is no ordinary human.

Recently in an interview he said he was sleeping on the factory floor of Tesla because he didn't have time to go home. That's going to lead to burnout, mental and physical issues. I am a big advocate of work smarter not harder.


I'm a big advocate of "don't tell people what to do." Musk seems to have a pretty good handle on his own limits. He's been doing crazy work hours and sleeping under his desk occasionally for over a decade. Just because it hits the news doesn't mean he should change his habits if it works for him.


If they ever develop a cheaper tunneling technology, they could bid on some sections of the Tokyo to Osaka maglev. That's under construction now. For one tunnel, 5 meters a day, 25000 meters to go. Test trains have been running on a 41km track for years. 500km/h is normal cruising speed. They've reached 600km/h in tests.


In India, cheaper tunneling technology would be a boon the impossibly chaotic cities. Acquiring private properties to build urban metro transit systems is prohibitively expensive and so is tunneling.

A cheaper tunneling technology would be very much solving plenty of transit problems in a country like India.

I hear TBMs are just crazy expensive. They used two TBMs for the Bangalore Metro. One broke down and it took them months to fix it.

As of now cheaper tunneling tech would be the greatest thing ever for may cities in non developed countries.


I'm surprised they used tbm in Bangalore, but I think tbm aren't required. Cut and cover works well and is primarily used

For example, Mumbai Metro's line 3 is totally underground, and is in the costliest City of India. It is planned at 3.5 billion $ for 33 know. Around 100 million $ per km. And this includes the cost of stations, rails etc.

In comparison, recently completed Delhi metro phase 4 took 6.7 billion $ for 100 km at 67 million $ a km. A proposed Delhi metro project to UP outside the city (and hence cheaper) is around 1 billion $ for 35 km (and fewer stations).

From the looks of it, I don't think cut and cover for making tunnels has any significant expense at all. It looks like India can construct metros (including stations which are the bigger costs) at 30 million $ per km. This is far lower than the tunneling costs of 100 million $ per mile that Elon plans to achieve, and 1 billion $ / mile that he thinks it costs (it doesn't, the major cost is stations and labor, and he can't bypass unions with political access).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line_3_(Mumbai_Metro)

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delhi_Metro

Edit: Looks like India does use tbm. The cited Mumbai metro line is using 17 tbm.

https://m.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/tunnel-boring-machi...


Got interested, crunched some numbers.

A TBM costs like 10 million euros to buy, 5 million euros per month to operate. And move 50 feet a day. So, all combined it costs like 14 million dollars per mile to tunnel. But as in Mumbai's case (17 tbm for 33 km!), These are done in parallel for speed and to reduce costs, it's sound 30 million dollars per km. Which is almost the difference for mixed grade Delhi phase 4 and Mumbai's line 3 costs.

TLDR: tunnel boring costs 15 million dollars per km in material/operation costs, rest is probably rails+stations etc.

https://www.quora.com/How-much-does-a-tunnel-boring-machine-...

https://www.quora.com/How-fast-can-a-tunnel-boring-machine-d...


Mumbai and Delhi comparisons are pointless. They get whatever funds they ask from the center. At the same time for cities like Bangalore, they have to work with leftovers.

People complain the pace of Metro construction is low. But for the money these people get, its already nothing short of a miracle that they are even building this much.


The question isn't Mumbai vs Delhi. It is how costly is tunneling.

And I'm just pointing out that in India we are tunneling at around 10-15 million dollars per mile, far cheaper than what Elon musk thinks it costs (1 billion per mile), and what he plans to achieve (100 million dollars per mile). Essentially, the breakdown is complex and different for different geology, labor prices, tunnel sizes etc. Musk's salesmanship of selling byte sized numbers without context is stupid.


That seems freakishly slow. It’s only 1.8 km per year. Crossrail in London was built at least 1 order of magnitude faster.


The Japanese tracks are going through a bunch of mountains.


>Who’s behind the $112.5 Million In fundraising for The Boring Company?

>Over 90% came from Elon Musk, with the rest from early employees. No venture capitalists or outside investors are involved according to the company.

https://twitter.com/Lebeaucarnews/status/985994145805238273


Odd ... why put your own money at risk when you have access to unlimited blank checks? Some kind of weird personal asset defense play?


I have no idea why people take outside money. If you can't afford to build it, start smaller, get rich, go bigger. What is the purpose of personal capital if not to bet on yourself?


> I have no idea why people take outside money. If you can't afford to build it, start smaller, get rich, go bigger

1. To diversify their finances. Going all in means every bet, if it fails, could be your last. (Less applicable for someone with Elon's name recognition.)

2. Some ideas don't scale down. Building a big rocket is a different game from building a small one. The lessons from the latter will apply roughly, at best, to the former. Same with tunnels.

3. To get intellectual and political buy-in. When people invest in something, they take ownership--financially and emotionally. Having shareholders who you can deputies to fight your battles can sometimes beat a hired hand.


I think your second point is the most valid and hard to argue counter argument. I agree, there are things that simply require more capital than people have in their bank. I disagree that diversifying is virtuous unless there is a good reason to. Make the government your customer and your work will always be legal, not so for investors (see: countries "cleaning up" their portfolios, people still use gas though).


You take funding because you think it'll increase your personal rate of wealth increase.

Loans are the simplest to understand -- it's leverage. If you think you can double your money in a few years with a business plan, and that opportunity scales passably well to more money than you have in your bank account, you can take out a loan. To use your language, leverage is just "betting on yourself" even harder.

Taking on investors is different in that you can't ruin yourself doing it, but similar in that it increases your resources in a way that you hope will more than pay off over time against the cost.


You absolutely can ruin yourself doing it. The more outside capital you have, the larger the expectations of eventual returns are. If I take $100M in risk capital, I have to surpass $250M in returns or it was a failure. Simply doubling the money, even if done in mere years, is a failure. So from that perspective, investor money is actually worse than loans. I agree that loans are good for leverage, and banks are much less likely than investors to change the terms because they are senior and covered somewhat from downside. Investor money very much can ruin a perfectly good business with outsized expectations right when it starts working.


Another huge reason is to prove concept and make sure you're not fooling yourself. If you can get others to put in large amounts, it's an (imperfect) indicator of a kind of traction.

Musk probably doesn't feel like he needs that validation, so the main reasons to take outside money would be leverage and diversification. The downside is some loss of control.


Nobody else understands it or believes in it like you do.


Customers are validation, not investors. It is way, way easier to dupe an investor than a customer.


Total opposite way of how Musk thinks. He despises this attitude. He has said multiple times, if you won't risk your own money, what right do you have to risk someone else's? To him that's unethical. I agree.


Good point, he is reckless!


I'd say someone like Musk can be perceived to get caught up in their vision of the future so much that they are out of touch with the broader market and trends; however congestion is of the top issues of the 2nd largest city in the US.

Boring under LA to relieve congestion creates a MASSIVE opportunity that, when refined, can be deployed into other markets and eventually used in space. It's a genius move.

Musk is a definite bad ass.


I believe this has always been Elon Musk's strategy. Double down on his own projects. He's been pretty successful at it, as yet.


My first thought was that this might be to protect Musk's assets if Tesla/SolarCity etc run out of cash, go belly up etc. Parking his wealth in yet another early stage entity would make it harder to go after if structured cleverly?


The point of a limit corporation is that the shareholders are not personally liable for the company's debts. There are exceptions (usually related to the shareholders using corporate money for their personal purposes), but they're rare, and in any case I don't think this would protect him, since the shares in the Boring Company are themselves assets.


Part of what ruins companies you used to like is the money people get board memberships and have ideas about how fast they should be able to cart away the wheelbarrows full of cash.


Control, it's less work, and Elon is so successful that he doesn't need to worry about the signaling risk of putting in his own money.


Maybe he sees a large upside, and enjoys control.


He didn't let friends invest in SpaceX early on because he didn't want to lose their money. Perhaps this is similar.


Maybe he no longer has access to unlimited blank checks...


I genuinely don't understand why this comment was down-voted.


Even the most cynical TSLA shorter would be insane not to throw money at a brand new Elon Musk venture. (If they have any left, shorting TSLA is an expensive hobby.)


That’s not really true. The stock is flat over the past year. To be a musk investor now, you have to accept that you’re late to the party, and enjoy buying into rich valuations with a lot of hype baked in.


What is not true?

The nature of shorting is that you make money only when stock drops significantly in a short period of time.

If stock is flat, you loose your money. All of it.

If stock drops less than premium you paid for the option, you loose money.

If stock drops a day after your option expiration date, you loose money.

This year there were a couple of dips (~20% in short period of time) where you could have made money shorting. Caveat: if you timed it perfectly and good luck with that.

To put real numbers: a 3 month short will cost you about 10% of stock price. To make money stock price would have to drop more than 10% and you would have to execute the short at the right time in that 3 month window (as opposed to waiting for even bigger drop and loosing because the stock went up).

Even with TSLA stock gyrations in the last year, that's a bet very unlikely to have been profitable for most people.


You’re talking about buying puts, which is different from shorting the stock. If you short a stock that stays flat, you’re out your borrowing costs but nothing more.


Also you could have sold long dated call spreads for most of the year - effectively shorting the stock with some profit to show for it.

Edit: you’re also more likely to have lost money buying Tesla over the past year vs shorting it, so it really hasn’t been “expensive” to short it.


You seem to be confused between short selling and puts.


Elon is getting into a lot of high risk ventures. That's good, people ought to push themselves and if someone in his position never fails they probably aren't challenging themselves enough. But I hope that he's able to let go if this does fail, instead of having Tesla buy the company or something a la Solar City.


Guess merch funding wasn't enough :)


How do I get in on this investment??


Be Elon Musk or an early employee.


sure let's ban AR15s and give our money to a flamethrower company


Guaranteed this is an Artificial Intelligence company.




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