“The car is the skate,” Elon Musk says.
The Boring Company, a firm set up by Tesla CEO (and former chairman) Elon Musk in an effort to solve urban traffic jams), has unveiled its first working prototype, and it indeed works. In the gestation from concept to reality however, the idea of utilising ‘electric skateboards’ have been abandoned, in favour of turning the car itself into skateboards by fitting ‘tracking wheels’ that are retractable.
At an event in Hawthorne, California, they showed off their new completed loop section, accessed by a lift that was built in front of a mock store that shows off what The Boring Company will also sell (bricks, made of the refuse of their boring machines, reportedly sturdier and cheaper than regular bricks). Once a Tesla Model X arrived on the lift (which takes up the footprint of roughly two car parking spaces), the car was lowered down into the tunnel, tracking wheels were deployed (they were fixed on this mock car, but the real deal will be retractable as not to impede the functionality of the car as a… uh, car), and the Model X was effectively turned into a high-speed train.
Elon Musk, the majority investor & head of The Boring Company, was quick to point out that the tunnels would not be a walled garden meant just for Tesla vehicles – the tracking wheels would be available as an option on Teslas, or retrofitted to any electric vehicle with level 2 autonomous driving features and able to hold a steady cruise of up to 240km/h.
In addition of the abandonment of ‘electric skateboards’ for cars to ride on, there’s also the matter of pedestrian travel, which Musk previously said would be enabled with skates featuring passenger pods on them. Now, The Boring Company will employ random Tesla cars to act as shuttles. The downside of this of course is that rather than carry 8-16 people per pod-skate, a Model X can only accommodate a maximum of 6.
While the prototype system saw the Model X maxing out at around 66km/h (largely due to drive-surface issues that Musk says will be sorted in due course), it’s clear that there’s huge potential for such a system. While detractors say that a tunnel system will suffer from the same bottleneck & pinch-point issues as regular motorways (even when cars run at 240km/h), the ability to expand the motorway transport network without changing the landscape is pretty cool. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this as it expands.