Elon Musk Unveils Loop, The Boring Company's First Rideable Prototype

High hopes rest in this tunnel under LA.

By Ariana Chomitz 
on

On a surprisingly unsexy stretch of south LA adjacent to a SpaceX parking lot, Elon Musk unveiled The Boring Company’s working test tunnel Tuesday evening, and invited the public to inspect his first big hole in the ground. This long-anticipated tunnel is the first rideable prototype emerging from Musk’s years-long, multi-city endeavor to provide a clean, efficient solution to urban congestion that famously emerged out of his frustration with LA traffic.

The Hawthorne tunnel on view on is merely a proof-of-concept, and not intended for general public consumption. The technology used to build it was only the first-gen Boring Machine named Godot (as in, “Waiting for,”) and is the best they have until second-gen “Line-Storm” (see a rendering below) is finished.

Even then, the promise of tunneling tech that is ten times better than what’s currently the industry standard doesn’t manifest until “Prufrock,” its third-gen machine, can be modified based on the expected learnings of Line-Storm. “This is what physics suggests should be possible,” Musk told invited guests.

"Linestorm"
"Linestorm"

So what’s special about this Hawthorne test tunnel? Well, it works, for one — a feat that Musk, also the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, was eager to celebrate by offering demo rides to invited guests and members of the media.

Closeup footage of Godot, as in "Waiting For," a Boring Company boring machine.  

Boring Company Launch Event: What Elon Unveiled

The event centered on what’s confusingly referred to as the “two-mile test loop” (it’s actually 1.14 miles). The cozy 12-foot diameter tunnel has overhead lighting strips (“They’re functional,” commented Boring Company representatives to me) that look almost like party lights, blazing a rainbow ombre trail through the atmospherically misty white tunnel and, now, a test track. When a Tesla Model X enters the Loop, specially aligned wheels fit snugly within concrete guidance tracks, or “shelves,” as you see below:

Tesla loop

Though it’s far from a “hyperloop,” the tracks are designed to eliminate the potential for navigational errors and ensure safe passage through the narrow tube as passengers zipped away at a coy 30ish mph (well below the 150mph capable speed) during test rides.

At the other end of the track, docking on the exposed-girder car lift, the extra-broad forehead of the Model X’s windshield allowed for an inspiring view of that widening patch of sky before our driver — who in future iterations will be replaced by an autonomous EV — popped up surface-side and smoothly turns out onto a sun-drenched street. Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” whooped on surround-sound speakers.

Like most Musk endeavors, The Boring Company is multi-faceted, and wants to dramatically decrease the cost of tunneling to speed infrastructure development. 

The test tunnel remains rough around the edges, and the guiding “skates” on the car lurched us side to side a few times as we sped over concrete shelves that hadn’t been polished up yet. This is one of many items on the Boring Company’s to-do list; settling on the best way to manufacture these shelf segments quickly and smoothly.

Despite its small stature, the Hawthorne tunnel has already contributed immense knowledge to research and development for tunneling technology. Local regulatory committees and geographical quirks of the region (earthquakes, methane, oil fields) also make Hawthorne an ideal place to refine the process, Musk said.

“Hawthorne is like Broadway for tunneling,” he quipped. “If you can build a tunnel here, you can build a tunnel anywhere.”

The Boring Company aims to be as vertically integrated as possible, and is the first construction company to make and cure the concrete tunnel segments on site with dirt trucked out continuously from the excavation that proceeds without pause, rather than ferrying materials back and forth between construction and manufacturing. By syncing and automating the formerly tedious process of digging, excavating, and reinforcing, the Boring Machine’s patient and electronic progress cuts down on time, cost, and environmental impact.

Footage of the Hawthorne tunnel that was released last April. 

What’s Next for the Boring Company Test Tunnel

When visualizing future operations, Musk continues to suggest a $1 admission per pedestrian passenger, to undercut or match current public transportation costs, and make it as widely accessible as possible — which is nice, considering that otherwise, you’d need to own a modded-out autonomous Tesla with deployable tracking wheels.

Musk hasn’t patented this technology either, and openly invites other companies to try their hands — both at a solution to traffic, and at engineering their current and future vehicles to integrate into Loop-standard tunnels.

For now, he has abandoned the “skate” idea of attaching mini sleds to cars, and will instead focus on deployable wheels for future Tesla models, which means that other auto manufacturers will also need to develop similar vestigial add-ons to their products. The industry will undoubtedly catch up, but for a while, it seems to be a wide-open field for Tesla.

You can check out a short clip of the new souped-up Model X being used to test the Hawthorn tunnel in the video below.