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Elon Musk dishes more dirt on his tunneling plans

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Have boring machine, will tunnel

Elon Musk’s boring machine.
Image: Elon Musk via Twitter

Bloomberg has a great new feature out on Elon Musk’s tunnel boring ambitions. It adds a lot of color to what we know so far about the billionaire’s plans, but still leaves us with questions. Since Musk first started tweeting about his tunnel plans last December, we’ve been on the fence about whether or not the SpaceX CEO is joking. And while we now know he’s definitely not, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Here’s what we’ve got so far:

  • Musk is building a test tunnel. It’s in the parking lot of SpaceX headquarters in LA. It doesn’t go anywhere (apart from down), and Musk will need city permits to continue. There’s no word on where the tunnel might go, only that it will accommodate cars. (We’ve seen pictures of this hole already.)
  • He has a boring machine. Its a 2015 model nicknamed “Nannie” that’s 400 feet long and weighs 1,200 tons.
  • The project has a leader but “no full-time employees. SpaceX engineer Steve Davis is in charge, but that seems to be about it. The company will, though, be independent of SpaceX and Musk’s other ventures.
  • Musk compares the tunneling industry to aerospace. I.e., he wants to improve upon decades of stagnant technology (making boring machines with “dramatically increase[d]” speeds), and offer services that are cheaper than those currently available — just as he has with rocket launches and SpaceX.
  • Eventually, he wants to build a vast network of tunnels. He suggested some could include as many as 30 levels for cars and high-speed trains.

Bloomberg joins together some other dots that might (or might not) shed some light on Musk’s plans. As we’ve noted before, it’s possible that Musk’s love of tunnels is connected to President Donald Trump’s big infrastructure push. And while Musk and Trump don’t, on paper, seem like natural allies, the SpaceX CEO has been slowly aligning himself with the new administration — attending meetings at Trump Tower and tweeting his support for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Musk also has a track record of getting into bed with government for his big enterprises. SpaceX, of course, has won contracts with NASA for its rocket launches; while Tesla has benefitted from tax credits for electric cars and subsidies for its Nevada-based Gigafactory. And government contracts for big infrastructure projects are often negotiated with terms that are generous to industry.

So: a tunneling company with improved equipment that competes for government contracts? Maybe Musk’s plans are boring after all.