elon musks bizarre projects

Elon Musk’s Most Bizarre Project is Created Here

His company, Boring Company, finances itself by selling perfume, flamethrowers and caps. But the real business is underground. Our satellite images show how Elon Musk is now tunneling Las Vegas for an underground Tesla cab service.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article written in German by “Anabel Schröter“. Access the original article here.

Traffic jams can be quite a pain – not just ordinary employees on their way to work, but also multi-billionaires like Elon Musk. In December 2016, the latter was so upset about traffic that he decided to take action.

Although it would have seemed obvious, the SpaceX founder and Tesla CEO did not back flying cars. He wrote that they had too many disadvantages, were too noisy and would stir up the air too much. “They might come down and behead me,” Musk mused. Instead, the entrepreneur extraordinaire’s most absurd idea emerged. He announced on Twitter that he would build himself a tunnel boring machine. And on the same day, he founded The Boring Company.

Nearly six years later, recent satellite images from LiveEO show how Musk, following a test tunnel at SpaceX’s factory site in Hawthorne, California, is now gradually tunneling under the gambling metropolis of Las Vegas to deploy Tesla cars in the tubes – currently around the city’s convention center – as a kind of underground cab service without traffic jams and traffic light stops.

The Boring Company now advertises that it bores faster and cheaper than other tunnel builders in the world. An entrepreneurial-style claim – but is it true? So far, the company has kept its head above water with high-profile sales of flamethrowers, caps and a perfume that smells like burnt hair.

  • Hawthorne 2016
  • Hawthorne 2017
  • musk boring company hawthorne
  • hawthorne construction equipment 2017
  • hawthorne 2018
  • hawthorne tunnel 2018
  • Musk Boring Company Hawthorne

Images: LiveEO/Pleiades, LiveEO/Planet Labs PBC SkySat

Two months after Musk’s announcement, satellite images show the start of the first dig. On SpaceX’s premises in Hawthorne, he is having the first pit dug. 15 meters long, 9 meters wide, and 4.60 meters deep. Musk deliberately chose the parking lot of his own company. Because he didn’t need a building permit from the city authorities there.

The idea of simply building tunnels is not enough for the billionaire. He wants to revolutionize tunnel construction. Until recently, the company’s website said it wanted to reduce the cost of construction by a factor of ten and significantly accelerate the speed. This statement has since disappeared from the website. Instead, it says it wants to develop a machine that can dig seven miles a day, or just over 11 kilometers.

According to experts, however, this says practically nothing. “The speed depends on the diameter of the tunnel, for one thing. A smaller machine drills faster than a large one,” explains Gerhard Wehrmeyer, head of research and development at Herrenknecht, the tunnel boring machine specialist based in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The tunnel diameter of the Boring Company tunnels is very small at 3.60 meters. German car tunnels are much larger. The Rennsteig Tunnel on the A71 in Thuringia, for example, consists of two tubes. Each tube has two lanes, each of which is three and a half meters wide. Also, very different safety standards apply in this country than in the United States. “In German road tunnels, there must be emergency walkways to the left and right of the carriageway, each one meter wide,” explains Roland Leucker, managing director of the Studiengesellschaft für Tunnel und Verkehrsanlagen (STUVA).

Secondly, the soil is not the same everywhere. A soft soil must be directly supported and lined, otherwise it would collapse behind the drill. “There is constant forward drilling, getting material out and removing it,” says Wehrmeyer.

In April 2017, Musk bought the first used tunneling machine from Lovat (now part of Caterpillar). He christened it Godot. Then, in late August that year, the local authority approved a tunnel under the Hawthorne town site. In January 2018, the company bought land around a single-family home. Two more lots followed. The tunnel opened on Dec. 20, 2020, and Musk is testing different types of vehicles for his tunnel systems along the 1.83-kilometer route.

But to drill faster than usual, it needs innovation. The second drill Line-Strom already significantly modified the Boring Company. Then came the first in-house design, the Prufrock drill. The company advertises that Prufrock can start directly from the surface, mine underground and resurface when the work is complete. The advantage: no pits need to be dug. But is this new? No. “The Japanese already tested processes and machines that descend from the surface in pilot projects decades ago,” Herrenknecht expert Wehrmeyer tells us.

Musk’s Biggest Project at the Moment

Here are the tunnel stations of the Las Vegas fair*.

Las Vegas Convention Center

The Boring Company’s first paid project has been under construction in Las Vegas since late 2019. The company is building an underground transportation system under the convention center, the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop (LVCC Loop). In November 2019, the Prufrock began drilling the first tunnel. In the process, the machine advanced about 15 meters per day. This is not faster than average, Leucker comments. “Depending on the ground conditions, an average of ten to 20 meters per day can be achieved over the entire tunnel section in large tunnels (diameter around ten meters),” says the expert. In some sections, even 30 to 60 meters a day are possible.

On May 15, 2020, the Boring Company celebrated its first milestone in a video on Twitter. “You can’t stop Vegas” is written on a black wall. Shortly after, the Prufrock breaks through. With this, the company celebrated the completion of the last tunnel under the fairgrounds.

  • Central Fair Station Las Vegas 2019
  • Central Fair Station Las Vegas 2020
  • Central Fair Station Las Vegas Nevada 2020
  • Central Fair Station Las Vegas Nevada 2021

Images: LiveEO/Planet Labs PBC SkySat

Around three months late, the tunnel system was finally inaugurated in April. Contrary to initial announcements, however, the loop is not used by fully autonomous cars and buses, but by Tesla models 3 and X. For safety reasons, drivers are at the wheel. For safety reasons, there are drivers at the wheel.

And Musk broke another promise. In 2017, he was still boasting in a YouTube video that cars could travel at 200 kilometers per hour in his tunnel systems. In fact, they reach just 56 kilometers per hour in the Las Vegas Loop.

  • South Exhibition Station 2019
  • South Exhibition Station Tunnel 2019
  • South Exhibition Station 2020
  • South Exhibition Station Ramp 2020
  • South Exhibition Station 2021

Images: LiveEO/Planet Labs PBC SkySat

In the first real endurance test in June 2021, the tunnel system was to save trade fair visitors a 25-minute walk between the exhibition halls. The plan was to replace it with a two-minute drive. Two turned into more like three minutes. And the satellite images show that the trips at the West and South stations start above ground, only the stop at the exhibition center is underground.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2022, however, Musk’s system began to snag. Several Twitter users reported a traffic jam in the tunnel. “2025: This is how most will die, suffocating in a supposedly impossible traffic jam in the Tesla tunnel,” wrote one, posting a video showing the jam.

  • Exhibition Stations West and North
  • Exhibition Stations West and North 2020
  • Exhibition Stations West and North 2021
  • Exhibition Stations West and North
  • Exhibition Stations West and North
  • Exhibition Stations West and North
  • Exhibition Stations West and North

Images: LiveEO/Google-Earth/Maxar

One difficulty Leucker anticipated. For him, the two single-lane tunnels in Las Vegas simply aren’t designed to allow traffic to flow without congestion. He would see trains as a better alternative.

But for some people who want to avoid the city’s crowded subway, the cars can be an incentive. So the surrounding Resorts World Hotel and Encore Hotel jumped on the project before their own opening. In June 2020, they applied for the private tunnel connection. Construction began on the tunnel at Resorts World Hotel in early 2021, according to satellite imagery.

  • Station at Resorts World Hotel
  • Station at Resorts World Hotel
  • Station at Resorts World Hotel
  • Station at Resorts World Hotel
  • Station at Resorts World Hotel

Images: LiveEO/Google Earth, LiveEO/Planet Labs PBC SkySat

Both hotels have now been connected since February 2022. Satellite images show the large trench at the Encore Hotel construction site. The trench means that an underground train station has been created there. The connection between the two hotels has already been dug by Prufrock. The connection between the LVCC loop and the Encore Hotel, on the other hand, is still under construction. Excavation of the tunnel between the Resorts World Hotel and Exhibition Hall West is also expected to begin by the end of the year. Once completed, the tunnel system will resemble a circuit.

At least the Las Vegas government seems to think a lot of the project and now wants to have an almost 47-kilometer-long tunnel network with 51 stations built, connecting casinos, downtown, the airport, the stadium and the fairgrounds.

And more tunnels are said to be in the planning or negotiation stage. In Miami, for example, in San Jose, in Fort Lauderdale. A high-speed train line between Washington and New York was also under discussion. According to Musk, there had already been a verbal commitment from the government. But officials directly denied that. Since then, not much has been heard about it.

Hardly any excavated material is visible on the satellite images. The Boring Company advertises that it will reuse it. This is not revolutionary either, but common practice in Germany and Europe, for example. In addition, tunnels are not exactly climate-friendly. The cement used in them releases a lot of CO2 during production. So it doesn’t matter that the cars are electric.

Tunnel expert Leucker likes Musk’s plan to put transportation underground but doesn’t see the Boring Company taking any new approaches. “Everything he’s promising are items that have been implemented for decades, in that I don’t think he’s going to be able to achieve great success with his approaches.”

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