Once again, Elon Musk has set tongues wagging with another grand plan. Now he wants to dig a tunnel under Los Angeles and other major cities to cut congestion with a new Tunnel Boring Company. This time he must be kidding, right?
Absolutely not. He’s deadly serious and we’d lay money that this one is going to happen. But the reason isn’t as obvious as you might think. It’s Hyperloop.
Musk always has a master plan
It’s time to stop looking at Musk’s activities in isolation. We’re all guilty of it, but we’re starting to see a pattern. We’re all playing the same game, but he’s several moves ahead and, by the time we’ve got our head around his latest scheme, he’s already making progress on the next.
So now we’re starting to look for a motivation every time Musk comes out with a left-field, batshit crazy scheme like digging a tunnel right under major cities. Hyperloop fits…
Musk is right, by the way. A Los Angeles, New York and Detroit bypass deep under the surface of the Earth is a great idea in isolation. A study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) revealed that Americans wasted 6.9 billion hours sat in traffic in 2014.
That’s 42 per hours for each rush hour commuter and it’s up from 6.3 billion hours in 2009. So it’s a problem that’s getting worse.
Musk had a Falling Down moment
Even with a self-driving Tesla, it was apparently too much for Musk, who had his own personal Falling Down moment in December and took to Twitter to provide a solution.
Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) 17 December 2016
Aside from the fact that Musk is basically creating every machine from Total Recall, think Johnny Cabb and now the preposterous boring machines, there’s some sound logic at play here. Simply put, there are two options to bypass a city:
- A series of Tokyo-style bridges.
- Musk’s tunnel.
The tunnel makes way more sense, for the world at large and Musk himself. It’s commercially viable, the construction work shouldn’t impact on the city and there’s a lot more.
The autonomous electric cars that we should all be driving by the time these tunnels are operational mean we won’t have to worry about emissions in an enclosed space, the cars could travel inches apart at a constant speed, widening the gap when one hits the exit ramp at a constant speed and tens of thousands of cars could travel through the city each and every day without impacting on the city.
But then there’s the flipside of the coin: Elon Musk wants to burrow under each and every city anyway. In fact, he needs to.
Hyperloop needs city center hubs
Musk applied for a permit to build a 5-mile Hyperloop system in January 2016 in Quay Valley, California. That’s great, it’s a start. But, if Hyperloop is ever going to truly flourish, then it needs to link major cities.
Look past the first applications in Dubai and on that small site in California. Hyperloop can be a Metro system for the nation and link every major city, for a start. It could literally link the whole nation with a sprawling web of stations that take us from Los Angeles to New York and Alaska to Austin.
Once he has a network in place across the US then there’s no reason why Hyperloop can’t link countries and continents, but the key to its success is accessibility and convenience. Even though the first images of Hyperloop suggest an overland track, the best way to do this is to bury it.
Airports are inconvenient
Right now we have to head out of town to the airport and we deal with it, but it’s not the best way. The simple solution for this futuristic transport station is a city center transport hub and there’s only one way to do that: tunnels deep underground.
If Musk tries to get permits for Hyperloop, then he’ll likely face objections from the rail companies, concerned citizens and local businesses. But if he’s already built tunnels, with the full support of the local community, then he already has the permission, he’ll have already proved the concept and those objections will be that much easier to overcome.
Add to that the contribution to his R&D from the cities themselves and big business, and it starts to look like one of the shrewdest business moves we’ve seen, even from Musk.
He needs to develop all of this tech in any case. So by giving it a different purpose and a different label then it will be greeted with rabid enthusiasm, rather than side-eyed skepticism. But make no mistake, this all fits into his Hyperloop master plan.
How can we object to another tunnel?
When there’s a tunnel running under the city already and main street hasn’t fallen into the ground, how can we object to a second tunnel running alongside it that contains Hyperloop pods? We really can’t, and Musk will have headed off 90% of the objections before we even realized what they were.
The man is just several steps ahead in pretty much every game he plays. That has helped him annex the power company before they could even see it by developing SolarCity and Tesla’s Powerwall with distinct companies. Linking them up down the line was always going to happen, but he didn’t do it until he was too big to stop.
That same approach helped him steal a march on the entire car industry by running A utopilot hardware in the background on all of his cars and this latest scheme has all the hallmarks of a pre-emptive strike. We’re not just going to grudgingly let him tunnel under all our cities, we’re going to ask him to do it.
Then, when the congestion tunnels are in place, Hyperloop is going to follow in seriously short order. When it does, even if we want to, we won’t be able to object.
This is the real master stroke behind these tunnels and it’s why the Tunnel Boring Company is really not a joke. It’s really going to happen.