Everything you need to know about the Boring Company, Elon Musk’s latest venture

Elon Musk is excited again, and this time it’s all about a new tech venture called “The Boring Company.” Yep, that’s a play on words, but it’s also a real business that wants to revolutionize the way that Americans travel — not up in powerful space rockets this time, but rather beneath our cities. Here’s everything you need to know about it!

What’s Elon Musk up to this time?

Musk and associates believe that “roads must go 3D,” to quote the Boring Company. In other words, they really, really hate traffic, and they believe that as cities get more congested we’ll need to find other traffic solutions beyond our boring old streets and railways. The “3D” solutions could be either flying cars or tunnels — and since flying cars aren’t really feasible right now, the Boring Company is focusing on tunnels. Specifically, a whole bunch of tunnels underneath cities for people to travel in.

Musk likes this tunnel idea because it’s long-term, won’t have much impact on current city structures, and (naturally) because it’s a little sci-fi. It also ties in well to Musk’s high-speed, long-distance transit passion (including dreams like the Hyperloop), with the possibility of connecting nearby cities to each other.

So, what is “The Boring Company” exactly?

man jumps into subway for phone speeding

You may be thinking, “Umm, Elon, we already have tunnels below cities. They’re called subways. You were about a century too late.” Well, Musk knows that, and that’s partly why the new venture is called the Boring Company. It’s not about seizing some newfound technology, but rather using old-fashioned underground digging more efficiently.

Specifically, the Boring Company wants to vastly increase the speed that city tunnels can be dug, and decrease the associated costs. Additionally, the BC wants to get involved in creating the tunnels themselves. That’s where the other meaning of “boring” comes in: The company will literally be boring holes underneath urban areas, using its own assets.

But what is the Boring Company actually doing differently?

elon musk ridiculously fast sled screen shot 2017 05 12 at 19 26 44
Elon Musk

The BC has several specific goals in tunneling, which include a lot of advanced technology that isn’t often seen in today’s tunnel-digging. That includes:

  • New TBMs (tunnel boring machines): These are the giant machines that chew out tunnels. They are very slow: about 14x slower than a snail, according to the BC. The primary goal of the company is to replace these older machines with brand new versions that come with a lot of promises. They will be carried via electrical power instead of diesel; they will be automated for safety; and they will have triple the amount of power compared to their oldschool predecessors. Some of these goals are relatively easy, while some require a lot of new invention.
  • New support strategies: Currently, TBMs tunnel a little, stop to build supports, tunnel a little, and so on. That’s one of the big reasons they are so slow. The BC also wants to find a better way, preferably a method that allows for continuous tunneling and reliable support-building.
  • Smaller tunnels: Current tunnels are around 28 feet wide in the U.S. The BC wants to dig tunnels that are only 14 feet wide. That’s where most the speed and savings come from.
  • R&D: To no surprise, the BC thinks that underground construction equipment is woefully out of date. Part of the organization’s purpose is to research new technology to update this industry.

Is the Boring Company a pipe dream, or is it really happening?

Boring Company Digger

It’s really happening. Actually, it was really happening back in the summer of 2017, when Elon Musk rented a Canadian boring machine and secured permission to start digging test tunnels out at the SpaceX headquarters—quite literally what Musk had threatened to do in response to horrible LA traffic.

From there the project quickly expanded. Maryland gave the company permission to dig a 10-mile tunnel in part of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and the company unveiled plans to start using a second, more advanced boring machine. The long-term, Musk-style goal is to build a tunnel between New York and D.C., which in theory could take only 30 minutes.

Of course, at the moment these are primarily prototype and testing projects as the company forms ways to save money and reinvent tunneling. But there’s definitely a lot of activity.

Are there any practical yet fundamentally important problems that the BC needs to address?

Boring Company Model

Glad you asked! There are a number of issues with digging new transportation tunnels, some that the Boring Company has addressed and some it has not. That includes:

  • Earthquakes and vibrations: The BC assures people that, a) the tunnels are too deep for any meaningful vibrations to be felt, and b) tunnels don’t really get damaged in earthquakes, and certainly can’t cause them.
  • Dirt: What happens to the dirt from all this excavation? Well, it’s usually shipped to landfills or other construction projects — and it looks like that will keep on happening. The BC mentions that it would like to turn the dirt into construction bricks for tunnel support, but no word on when or how this would happen.
  • Emissions: The BC intends to use an electric skate method to transport gas-burning equipment (unfortunately, tunneling equipment needs a lot of power and cannot be fully electric yet). This helps cut down on at least some emissions involved in the process. Presumably, once tunnels are completed they will be equipped with electric cars and vehicles.
  • Size: Are 14-foot tunnels large enough for subway cars and transportation equipment? We hope so! However, 14-foot tunnels have been used primarily for sewer and flood control in past projects: It’s not certain precisely what sort of vehicles would be used in these smaller tunnels, although we do have some interesting mock-ups from the BC. But would these new tunnels be required to use BC vehicles?

Additionally, if you live in NYC, D.C. or another city riddled with public transit, you have probably noticed (especially in recent years) that the big problem with subways and similar solutions is maintenance. Tunnels may reliably stay the same, but underground equipment wears out very fast and is very difficult to replace or keep running on a reliable schedule over time. In other words, you can have the best tunnels in the world, but unless the city devotes enough resources in maintenance and updates, they are going to run into a whole lot of problems.

This sounds fun and futuristic. Can I get involved?

The Boring Company is still a relatively small startup, but it’s looking for top-notch engineers and technicians if you are interested in applying. Currently, there’s no word on investment opportunities or funding rounds.

Emerging Tech

Smarter cities need smarter addresses. And you just need 3 words

To make really smart transportation choices, more precise location data will have to be integrated with citywide transportation data. Here’s how one company is mapping the world by using just three words.
Computing

Detangle your desk with a mighty wireless mouse. Here are our six favorites

If you're looking for the best wireless mouse on the market, we've got the list for you!. These six models have something for everyone, whether you're a hardcore gamer or simply looking to ward off carpal tunnel.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket goes bolder, changes its name to Starship

Elon Musk has revealed that he's changing the name of SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket to the grander Starship. It's getting a redesign and may even be one day used to visit other star systems trillions of miles away.
Deals

This all-in-one shaving system lets you use over 40 blades from different brands

Trazor shaving system gives you the ability to shave using most of your favorite blades from various brands like Gillette and Schick. It even squirts out water, shaving gel, and aftershave making it an ideal solution for traveling.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Smart Home

With Personal Food Computers, nerd farmers are finding the best way to grow

MIT research scientist Caleb Harper wants to grow basil designed to prevent heart disease. It involves a personal food computer, climate manipulation, and open sourcing food. One day, your doctor could prescribe you a diet of food grown…
Emerging Tech

Internet of cows? Smart ear tag takes cattle tracking into the future

An Australian startup wants to bring cattle farming into the present day with smart ear tags capable of revealing where herds are grazing, and even if animals are sick or about to give birth.
Photography

DJI’s Ronin-S just got more capable with slew of new accessories

Need a longer battery life for the DJI Ronin-S, or perhaps a built-in screen, GPS, or universal mount? DJI has got you covered with a handful of new accessories for the company's one-hand gimbal.
Emerging Tech

Drones can safely fly a human kidney without damaging it, study shows

Drone deliveries are well on their way. Could they also be used for safely delivering transplant organs to hospitals without damage? A recent test flight attempted to find an answer.
Emerging Tech

Novameat’s 3D-printed ‘steak’ looks gross, but could it save the planet?

A Spanish startup called Novameat is developing a 3D-printed beefsteak, made using a paste composed of vegetable-based materials like rice, peas, and seaweed. Get ready for the future of food!
Smart Home

Most completely unnecessary ways to cook your turkey this Thanksgiving

Cooking the ol' Thanksgiving Day turkey in the oven can take hours. That said, why use a traditional oven when you can just as easily incinerate the bird with a jet engine? Here are the most insane ways to cook a turkey.
Emerging Tech

14 White elephant gift ideas that are guaranteed to spice up your holiday party

To help you make a splash at your holiday party this year, we've put together a quick list of the best White Elephant gift ideas the world has ever seen. Proceed with caution!
Emerging Tech

Dangle no more: Window-washing drone for towers could replace human cleaners

The maker of a window-washing drone for tall buildings claims it can do the job 20 times faster than humans and is much safer than using workers in cradles that dangle on the side of buildings.