Elon Musk's Las Vegas Tunnel Kind Of Sucks?

Photo: AP

In Elon Musk’s mind-brain, the future is autonomous cars (Teslas) getting sucked into the earth and then fired through tunnels at speed in a clean, orderly new system for navigating cities. The reality has... not quite been that good. Now in Las Vegas, Musk’s tunneling venture The Boring Company is trying for a bold transportation for CES in 2021, but even that is showing its limitations—as it competes against Vegas’ monorail.

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According to a TechCrunch report, TBC’s Las Vegas project may significantly damage support columns for the existing monorail. And it will still require human drivers. In the past, The Boring Company has promised some type of efficient travel through narrow tunnels with “electric autonomous vehicles with alignment wheels.”

Plus, back in May, the company released a video that showed they had done away with the whole alignment wheels thing, so the company’s transportation mode is now just a Tesla in a tunnel, because, in Musk’s words, “this is simple and just works.”

Somewhat relatedly—and this is the important part—Elon Musk has also said all Teslas will be fully capable of self-driving and can serve as robotaxis by next year. So if that’s true, why human-driven cars for the CES tunnel in 2021?

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All these various promises are revealed as utter bullshit in the TechCrunch report about The Boring Company’s $48.7 million Las Vegas project. The project, if you recall, will use modified Teslas to move “up to” 16 people at a time through a tunnel the company digs under the convention center.

The bulk of the report, which is worth reading in full, is about how the Las Vegas monorail is worried the tunneling may damage their support columns and force the monorail to shut down for costly repairs.

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Musk vs. The Monorail is absolutely the transit fight Americans deserve. But another part of the report jumped out at me: even these Teslas, running through a short, dedicated tunnel that is not set to open until 2021 at the earliest, will have human drivers:

Although TBC’s website states that the system would use autonomous vehicles, presumably using Tesla’s Autopilot technology, Labanowski [TBC’s government relations executive] said the LVCC Loop vehicles would actually also have human drivers “for additional safety.”

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So, we’re supposed to believe Teslas will be capable of full-self driving in all conditions by next year even though, by the following year, a safety driver will be needed for a .8-mile tunnel with a dedicated right-of-way, the single simplest application of self-driving that could possibly exist.

Not only does this lend serious doubts to the Tesla robotaxi promise, but it is also a definitive step backwards from better, existing technology.

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Airport people movers, close relatives to whatever the hell The Boring Company is building in Las Vegas, have been driverless for decades. Just last month, for example, I had a lovely, quick journey on Denver International Airport’s driverless people mover, which opened in 1995.

Yet here we are, in 2019, and The Boring Company says they’ll need a driver for their people-mover which moves fewer people over a shorter distance for “additional safety.”

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But, hey, 1 million robotaxis on the road by next year. If you can’t believe Elon Musk, who can you believe?

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About the author

Aaron Gordon

Senior Reporter, Investigations & Technology, Jalopnik