After years of failure, Elon Musk’s Boring Company claims it will finally test a full-scale Hyperloop this year
Despite being famously launched as “kind of a joke,” Elon Musk’s civil engineering firm, the Boring Company, will attempt to succeed where others have failed by building a working Hyperloop.
The Hyperloop, first proposed by Musk in 2013, is a theoretical form of transportation that would move people across long distances through low-pressure tubes using pods traveling up to 760 miles per hour. In a dreamworld, it would end traffic congestion arising from insufficient investment in new roads and highways.
Though the Hyperloop has remained a theory so far, the Boring Company announced on Monday that full-scale testing of the design will begin later this year.
It’s a bold move. The technical challenges alone of transporting people at a rate just below the speed of sound in conditions approaching a vacuum have yet to be solved by anyone in the decade since the idea was first put forth by Musk and his company’s competitor, Virgin Hyperloop.
No further information was provided by the Boring Company, nor could any additional comments be found on either its website or its LinkedIn account, its only other official communications channel.
The company’s track record thus far is also not encouraging. Apart from a private testing facility in California, the only customer-facing project completed by the Boring Company over the six years since it was officially founded is a system of tunnels 1.7 miles in length, located below the Las Vegas Convention Center and used to taxi visitors to three different stations in a Tesla driving at normal speeds.
Its statement did, however, surface after Musk himself said only hours earlier that the Boring Company will “attempt to build a working Hyperloop” sometime in the “coming years.”
The history of the Hyperloop
Although Musk has argued the technical problems can be solved, the next challenge is whether Hyperloops are even economically feasible.
“Honestly I think it’s a lot easier than people think,” he said in an interview with CNN back in 2015, explaining it functioned much like an air hockey table where the puck travels on a cushion of air.
An electric compressor fan on the nose of the pod would theoretically transfer high-pressure air from the front to the rear to ensure the capsule doesn’t decelerate owing to a buildup of wind resistance.
“It’s really not that hard,” he insisted at the time.
Musk has recently admitted testing of his autonomous Full Self-Driving (FSD) technology suffered from a series of “false dawns,” where he thought he was on the cusp of a breakthrough only to find out the problem was more complicated than he had believed. When it comes to developing his Hyperloop idea, however, he hasn’t even gotten that far.
Compared with Tesla and SpaceX, which are arguably upending entire industries, the Boring Company’s fairly simple and unspectacular tunnel below Las Vegas means it is one of the few endeavors of Musk’s that have fallen far short of their lofty goal to revolutionize transportation.
In fact, no company has come anywhere close to realizing the vision of the Hyperloop. The most tangible achievement to date has been the first test with humans by Virgin Hyperloop, the Boring Company’s main competitor, back in November 2020. It resulted in a pod reaching a speed of 100 mph over a 500-meter distance for a few seconds.
Virgin Hyperloop lost its cofounder and CEO, Josh Giegel, last year and has been forced to cut costs to survive, despite links to both billionaire Richard Branson and parent company DP World. In February, Virgin Hyperloop shed half its staff and switched strategy to focus on transporting goods, where safety is less of an issue.
Immune to hurricanes?
The Boring Company’s struggles can also be seen in its low rate of growth. Whereas Tesla employs 110,000 people and SpaceX 12,000, according to Musk this month, his Boring Company has fewer than 200 on its payroll.
That doesn’t mean it is standing still, however.
To help fund its operations, the tunnel-digging firm raised $675 million in equity last week from private investors including Sequoia Capital and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, as well as real estate developers like Tishman Speyer. Its Series C financing round currently estimates its value at just shy of $5.68 billion.
Part of this funding will go into improving Prufrock, a tunneling machine that digs at a speed of up to one mile per week. It was designed for easy use as well, launching directly from the surface and reemerging from underground upon completion, like a porpoise, according to the company.
Much like with the halting progress of his self-driving car technology, Musk’s confidence may stem from a chronic oversimplification of the challenge.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO appears to have forgotten the harrowing scenes of massive flooding that affected New York’s underground just last September.