The Boring Company is truly becoming an Elon Musk-founded company in more ways than one. Apart from developing quite rapidly for a startup of its nature, the tunneling firm is also receiving quite a lot of criticism from avid skeptics, many of whom seem to be under the impression that the Boring Company’s projects are pointless, or badly-planned at best.
Earlier this month, CNN Business published a piece on The Boring Company’s Las Vegas Convention Center loop system, which is poised to be opened early next year. The project was granted a $48.6 million contract but is expected to cost a total of $52.5 million, and it involves two mile-long tunnels where Teslas could ferry passengers from one side of the Las Vegas Convention Center complex to the other.
Needless to say, several individuals consulted by the news agency were extremely skeptical of The Boring Company’s vision. Christof Spieler, a lecturer at Rice University who researches transit and urban planning, sharply criticized the tunneling startup’s concepts, arguing that the Loop system seems poorly thought-out. “These feel like the kind of renderings an architecture student would do for their one-semester project. I don’t see any evidence that this has really been thought through in terms of how it would function,” he said.
Explaining further, Spieler remarked that the LVCC Loop’s renderings make the system look more like taxi-loading areas. With such a system in place, the lecturer noted that issues would likely arise when the system is in operation, such as cars jockeying past each other to pull in and out, which would, in turn, adversely affect the system’s operations. He also noted that the renderings do not seem to show any barriers that would block unauthorized cars from entering the tunnels.
Ultimately, Spieler noted that a standard people mover is still a superior solution, as passengers do not need to duck to board vehicles and they could also hold their luggage instead of accessing a car’s trunk. “It seems like car-thinking applied to a transit problem that we already know how to solve,” he said.
Gerry Tierney, who co-directs the mobility lab at Perkins&Will, which has designed transit systems in North America and the Middle East, was bolder in his criticism of The Boring Company. He took issue with the system’s use of Teslas, calling the idea “comically inefficient” and refusing to call the LVCC Loop a transit system. “This is not a transit system. It’s a system for driving electric vehicles underground,” he said, adding that Musk’s idea is pretty much what would happen if intricate transit systems like the London Underground replaced its subway trains with cars.
While The Boring Company’s technology is yet to be proven, it also seems pretty careless to completely discount the LVCC Loop’s potential even before it could be tested. The Boring Company and its technology are not being developed by a random group of unqualified individuals, after all, and Elon Musk himself has proven over the years that even conventionally insane ideas–such as landing the first stage of an orbital rocket on a drone in the middle of the ocean or scaling the production of a mass-market electric car–could be feasible if enough work is put into them.
Overall, the tunneling startup’s skeptics seem to be making the exact same mistakes as those who were also critical of Musk’s previous projects in SpaceX and Tesla. Musk was not joking when he remarked that the idea of using Teslas in tunnels is more profound than it sounds. This is partly because The Boring Company’s innovations are not really its people-movers, it is the tunnels themselves. While the use of all-electric vehicles in the Loop systems is a key part of the Boring Company’s vision, the startup’s true disruption lies in the ways that it could build tunnels far quicker and far cheaper than any other company in the industry.
The Boring Company intends to accomplish these goals with rather simple solutions. Smaller tunnels are faster to build, so the tunneling startup designed its tunnels to accommodate smaller vehicles. All-electric cars are used so that the tunnels do not require an extensive system designed to handle emissions from vehicles that use it. The Boring Company’s tunnel boring machines (TBMs) are also optimized consistently, making them progressively faster and cleaner to use. These may all seem like little adjustments to conventional tunneling practices, but each one represents a step towards a potential future where tunnels could be built at scale rapidly, and perhaps even autonomously.
It is easy to mock or dismiss the ideas of people like Elon Musk and his teams at The Boring Company, SpaceX, and Tesla. But inasmuch as Musk’s companies make it pretty easy to target them due to their goals and nature, SpaceX and Tesla’s history shows that more often than not, it is a mistake to bet against Musk and his team of visionaries, almost all of whom seem to have the tendency to think outside the box by default. As for the Boring Company’s LVCC Loop, there seems to be a good chance that it could outperform expectations, with recent simulations showing that the system could move about 13,000 people an hour, and that’s with the system operating nowhere near their limit.