Overnight Elon Musk’s The Boring Company, released a video of the Loop System in action. The 1 minute video has a lot included in it, so lets break it down.
0:01 – The video begins with a Tesla Model X being disappearing below the ground on a giant elevator, with room for 1 car at a time.
0:06 – We now get our second shot, looking at the vehicle (and the lift) front on and already we can see this is no ordinary lift. The car’s front wheels have braces on them, connected to horizontally mounted wheels that brace the car against the sides of the track.
0:11 – A third shot reveals the car has been fully lowered to an on-ramp, ready to enter the tunnel that’ll transport the vehicle from SpaceX Hawthorne, California, to an acquired parking lot a few blocks away.
We see again these bolt-on mounts for the front wheels and they are literally connected to the studs on the wheel. This raises the question of how we go from a prototype like this, a system where you can simply drive into it and have it connect without any human intervention.
The system then needs to unlock at the other end of the tunnel and release your car to drive away. Given the tunnel is one way, they need a return system to deliver these skates back to the start of the tunnel for the next vehicle. So while the video makes it all look easy and seamless, there’s most definitely a long road ahead. I don’t doubt they’ll get to that point, but right now, the system is very clumsy, very manual.
0:20 – The final shot we see of the tunnel entrance reveals a light strip that runs along the top of the tunnel, it changes from red to green, much like that of a car wash. During videos from the opening, Musk explains the blue you see is simply for aesthetics, giving the tunnel a futuristic look, but there’s a very practical safety aspect to the lighting, red means stop, green means go.
0:22 – A rear shot of the Model X shows a rapid launch down the tunnel, what looks like a green ring surrounding the car is a simple reflection of the green light above, bouncing off the car’s white paint, to reflect again against the white walls of the tunnel. It’s a pretty neat effect which is likely a happy accident than something they absolutely planned. The white tunnel provides a very clean look to everything, compared to the standard concrete found in train tunnels, also blackened by emissions from non-electric vehicles.
0:25 – One of the most revealing shots of the whole video is the car flying down the tunnel, with a covering of the underground workings. The side of the tunnel (not much larger than a car) adorned with pipes, cables and a couple of fire extinguishers.
The track itself is just a test track, so that explains the bumps, which from on-board footage does look reasonably bumpy. Musk says they’ve had the system up to around 130km/hr, but during the launch event, press were taken at around 50km/hr. To reach the maximum speeds and not have the experience feel like a terrible rollercoaster, the track needs to sooth, or the wheel mechanisms need to contain in-built suspension to absorb the bumps and get the passengers there smoothly.
0:42 –as the video continues, we can confirm there’s no emergency exit tunnels, likely a reflection of the safer vehicle travelling within the tunnel. While Tesla’s have gone up in flames, that’s a result of a collision.
In the Boring Company Loop System, there are some requirements. First of all, it has to be an electric car (read: no emissions). Autopilot has to be engaged (human drivers removed from the equation).
In the very worst case scenario, it’s plausible that a car could run out of battery in the tunnel, but I’d expect a similar warning to what you get when you enter a destination that is not obtainable with the range remaining.
What this means is that the standard autopilot ability to detect a vehicle ahead and slow safely will be in effect in the tunnel. This doesn’t rely on any form of location or GPS information, just cameras and radar, so being underground won’t impact the system.
All this combines to mean the tunnels are going to incredibly safe, as long as no animals or crazy humans are walking on the track. This means they need to come up with a solution to seal the ends of the tunnel, or have sensors constantly checking for obstacles.
0:48 – The ride is over and we see the ramp to the exit lift, ready to return the vehicle and it’s occupants to ground level.
0:57 – As the vehicle ascends on the lift, we get another look at those wheel braces, this time from the side. In this test build, the lift movement is quite slow. Remembering this lift can’t be the bottleneck in the system, so it needs to be sped up considerably, avoiding a acceleration and deceleration rate that would make passengers feel uncomfortable. The return trip, without the vehicle could be the maximum possible speed. Looks like there’s plenty of room around the lift for the air to escape.
1:00 – We see the Model X emerging back into the sunlight with the tunnel experience now completed. This opening features a second opening with stair access. Currently protected just by safety cones, this obviously won’t cut it in the real implementation. The stairs are likely just for service technicians and are never intended for consumer use.
1:03 – The video concludes with the lift meeting the ground level exactly, allowing the driver to simply drive away (if it wasn’t for those wheels bolted on). This is the confusing part, how this gets solved will really determine the viability of this model versus the original skate model, where any vehicle could drive onto a giant skate and be transported down the tunnel. Obviously that would mean combustion-engines would be able to use the tunnels, therefore requiring a different and likely more expensive tunnel build, so I understand it, but the wheel attachment system needs to get solved.
Musk has said this system won’t be exclusive to Tesla vehicles, but any that use it would need to be electric and given the requirement for autopilot to be on, I’d expect an adaptive cruise control system would have to be on-board.
There’s also no mention of cost and how users pay. Again what you don’t want is a payment terminal (even tap and pay) to slow things down on entry or exit of the system. Tesla owners would hopefully get a certain amount of use for free, like the Supercharger model and the use is billed directly to your account.
With a successful test of the tunnel at low speeds, Musk says the next step is to increase the throughput to allow a huge 4,000 vehicles per hour at a crazy 250km/h. Follow that, they obviously need to build more tunnels and that’s the hard, expensive and time intensive part of the equation.
What do you think about the tunnel? Is this the answer to Sydney and Melbourne’s congestion issues? Leave a comment below.
Now go watch the whole video yourself.