Elon Musk's Pipe Dream: Underground Electric Sleds for LA Traffic
The man behind Tesla and SpaceX proposes dropping individual vehicles into a network of subterranean platforms and tunnels.
Tech mogul Elon Musk elaborated this weekend on one of his newer projects: a multi-tiered network of underground tunnels that would whisk individual vehicles beneath the city on electric sled platforms going upwards of 130 mph.
For those of us in the minivan world, it's almost certainly the only time we'll hit those kinds of speeds, and the idea of ducking out of traffic jams certainly has its appeal. But in an indication of just how insanely ambitious Musk is, he's proposing to launch the system in Los Angeles, home to the some of world's most breathtaking traffic jams.
If all goes well, it'll work like this: Drivers on congested surface roads pull off onto roadside elevator platforms, which then descend into a network of underground tunnels. Instead of traversing the tunnels under their own power, the cars lock into the wheeled sled platform, which zips them beneath the city to a designated location. The elevator platform then raises the vehicle back up to the surface, where it merges back onto surface streets.
Even by Elon Musk standards, it's pretty bananas. But the tech mogul is fully ready to dig in.
“We’re trying to dig a hole under LA, and this is to create the beginning of what will be a 3D network of tunnels to alleviate congestion,” Musk said at the TED presentation. “You should be able to get from Westwood to LAX in five to six minutes.”
LA veterans will know that this particular trip is usually an hour-long headache down the 405 “freeway.”
The Los Angeles tunnel system could potentially drop vehicles hundreds of feet under the city, Musk said: “There’s no real limit to how many levels of tunnels you can have — the deepest mines are much deeper than the tallest buildings are tall.”
Musk said the tunnel system would, at some point, almost surely patch into his two other major transportation initiatives — autonomous cars and the high-speed Hyperloop magnetic train system.
To realize his space-age traffic jam remedy, Musk has launched yet another corporate concern — The Boring Company — to explore the initial steps of the project. The new unit is already digging an underground test track beneath the parking lot of SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
Among Musk’s other ambitions ventures, SpaceX has plans to colonize Mars and Neuralink is developing an implantable brain-computer interface.
Skeptics are already pointing out the colossal logistics problems with digging a network of tunnels under LA or any major metropolis. “The idea of Musk thinking he can have this magic machine and go in there full bore, it’s not gonna happen,” engineering consultant Thom Neff toldWire.
Jumbo-sized fiascoes like Boston's Big Dig come readily to mind, and the impact studies alone could take decades.
Still, Musk was typically optimistic at the TED presentation.
“The value of beauty and inspiration is very much underrated,” he said. “But I want to be clear: I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior. I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.”
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