Elon Musk on stage

Rides on my LA Hyperloop could cost just $1, says Elon Musk

At an information session, billionaire technologist Elon Musk talked about his plans for his ‘Boring Company’, including the promise of cheap underground rides in LA, and an imminent shipment of commercial flamethrowers.

Elon Musk was motivated to write a white paper laying out the concept of a Hyperloop system after finding himself frustrated at being stuck in Los Angeles traffic in 2012. Hyperloop transport involves a pressurised pod containing a vehicle, people or cargo being catapulted at aircraft speeds through a vacuum tunnel constructed above or beneath road traffic.

In theory, a Hyperloop could reduce cross-country and international journeys to matters of minutes (Musk suggested a Hyperloop journey between San Francisco and Los Angeles taking 30 minutes) as well as decongesting roads and increasing mobility across long distances.

Too busy with other ambitious ventures to pursue the concept himself, Musk open-sourced the Hyperloop concept in 2013. Since then, it has attracted considerable attention from start-ups and investors, and there are already plans under way to construct Hyperloops in the Middle East, India and elsewhere. However, Hyperloop technology has not yet been demonstrated to work at full scale, and concerns linger that Hyperloops could be dangerous, unpleasant or overambitious.

Undeterred by the challenge of digging and constructing a system of tunnels under one of the world’s largest cities, Musk is laying out plans to build a Hyperloop under Los Angeles.

Speculation that Musk could be returning to his Hyperloop concept began to build after Musk announced in December 2016 – seemingly in a series of throwaway Tweets – that he was going to “build a tunnel-boring machine and just start digging”. He later announced the establishment of a tunnel construction company: the Boring Company.

During yesterday’s information session at Leo Baeck Temple in Bel Air, Musk laid out his case for constructing a ‘Loop’ network of potentially hundreds of tunnels 30ft (9.1m) beneath the city, filled with constantly moving pods. This system would give priority to pedestrians and cyclists, although cars could also enter the underground superhighway. According to Musk, these 150mph (240km/h) journeys could eventually cost as little as $1 (74p) for a ride in a pod with 15 other people.

“This system is designed to be more like a highway, and a bunch of off-ramps and loops connecting to the highway, kind of like cars,” said Musk. “Almost like an autonomous underground, multi-level car system […] that costs a dollar.”

“We think we can make this very fun,” he added. Unlike airborne ride-sharing vehicles, he said, his Loop system would be minimally disruptive to the city, and would not be as noisy or dangerous.

The men suggested that there could be many more Loop stations than conventional underground rail stations due to their much smaller size: “In the extreme, you could have a station in everyone’s driveway,” said Steve Davis, former SpaceX engineer and now project leader for the Boring Company.

Meanwhile, faster (and presumably more expensive) journeys could shuttle passengers between cities at aircraft speeds via Hyperloop.

The Boring Company has bored a test tunnel near Musk’s SpaceX headquarters, and Musk next intends to build a 2.7 mile (4.3km) proof-of-concept tunnel in West Los Angeles. However, scaling up digging to create hundreds of underground tunnels will prove a considerable technical, logistical and legal challenge.

At present, tunnel-boring machines move at approximately 1mm/s, ten times slower than a typical snail. Musk is challenging Boring Company employees to speed their tunnelling up to the pace of a snail, and eventually to the pace of a human (1m/s). It has not yet been confirmed how this will be achieved.

At the session, Musk was also quizzed on his previous promise that the Boring Company would be selling $500 (£370) flamethrowers. He explained that there had been some challenges in delivering the flamethrowers, so he would be providing custom delivery in two weeks (“I guess they don’t like it if you ship things with propane,” he commented).

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