Elon Musk was talking in public again, this time at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles’ posh Bel Air neighborhood. Most of the conversation, with Steve Davis of the Boring Company, seemed to be aimed at reassuring neighbors about the totally experimental tunnel. Before the meeting, the LA Metro confirmed they were working with the Boring Company on the test.
Musk has a vision of mass transit that has “pods” that transport up to 16 passengers at $1 per person. He said this at the meeting, too, but it’s also information that shows up in the Boring Company’s FAQ, Tweets, and Instagram posts. “Soul-destroying traffic” is how Musk is planning to brand LA’s transportation system, as it was repeated during the presentation both aloud and on a slide. The phrase also occurs within the first 10 words of the FAQ. Previously, Musk has said that taking a pod will cost less than a bus ticket; tonight the cost was pegged at $1. He again offered free rides for anyone who wanted to test his tunnel.
For those of us who are not fancy enough to live anywhere near Musk’s test tunnel, there was news too — about bricks, locomotives running with Tesla Model 3 engines, and flamethrower delivery.
About the bricks
I’ve been covering this guy for years now and I think he might genuinely be more excited about his bricks than Mars? Anyway the deal is that part of what makes boring very slow is that the dirt displaced by the tunnel has to be removed. Musk’s bricks are made by compressing that dirt at high pressures, plus a little bit of concrete. “And then you have bricks that are rated for California seismic loads,” Musk said.
He is excited about selling the bricks, for “like 10 cents a brick or something like that,” he told the crowd. “And they’re really great bricks. You can, like, build houses with them and things.” He prefers them to cinderblock, which is “rough and grainy;” Musk bricks are “incredibly smooth.” And then, Musk launches into a paen to the bricks, which he views as incomparable: “These are bricks that are way better than any bricks I’ve ever seen at a construction site.” They can be, for affordable housing, “really compelling.”
They are also strong — with a PSI of 5,000, which doesn’t really mean anything to me personally, but is how one measures the compression strength of bricks. Musk said this was stronger than cinder blocks. Is it actually? I don’t know, I’m a science reporter, not a cinder block expert. Ask Masonry Magazine. Musk also enthused about selling the bricks in life-sized Lego kits, starting with a pyramid and the temple of Horus.
The most animated Musk looks pretty much ever is when he is talking about money. The audience is told 15 to 20 percent of the cost of the tunnel is essentially removing displaced muck, putting it in trucks and sending it… somewhere. Even if the bricks are given away, just not having to pay for muck processing makes it cheaper. I bet Musk picks up pennies when he sees them on the ground.
Muck removal brings us to the trains, which are — surprise! — another cost-saving measure. I honestly want him to do my taxes. “We made an electric locomotive,” Musk says. “A battery-powered locomotive, to be precise.”
It’s using batteries and engines from the Tesla Model 3. (There is a long and complicated saga about Model 3 production, some of it specifically regarding the batteries.) This moves a quarter million pounds of dirt per load, Musk said. But there’s only one; the other locations all use diesel engines, which are bad for the fume-type reasons. “I kind of think we’re the first to use a battery-powered locomotive of that size,” he said.
The Boring Company will be delivering its flamethrowers starting in two weeks, Musk said. There have been “delivery challenges,” he said — no one likes shipping things with propane, it turns out. The solution is “custom delivery to your house or business, with a Boring Company van.” There was no discussion of cost-savings.