Elon Musk "Invents"... The Subway(loop)
Blind technological optimism at the expense of critical thinking has become so rampant in recent years that anything lionized celebrities like Elon Musk say becomes cannon without question.
Musk’s Boring company has completed a 2-mile tunnel beneath a small section of Los Angeles through which Musk intends to transport people in cars capable of carrying up to 16 people at a time. These will accelerate to speeds of 155 mph.
The media has touted this as some sort of new fangled invention, born of pure genius as though nothing of its sort has ever been done before. Well, it’s a dark day for investigative reporting my friends.
It has been done before; it’s called a subway, also known as a metro system. It’s been around for over 100 years, and Los Angeles already has two; the Red, and Purple lines. They average nearly 170,000 boardings per weekday between the two of them. They ferry passengers through over 22 miles of tunnels, with each rail car capable of carrying over 11 times as many passengers as Musk’s proposed cars (carts, pods, whatever), with up to 6 cars per train, and all with automatic train control.
Yet somehow Elon’s comparatively paltry version of a subway has taken the nation by storm. His 2-mile, comparatively small-diameter tunnel, of which there exists a video of someone driving a Tesla through as though it were on electric skates, is being touted as pure genius. As some sort of futuristic tech the likes of which the world has never seen.
This appeal to celebrity, a logical fallacy if ever there was one, has completely undermined critical thinking among the masses; that includes the media who continue to report his undertakings in much the same way propagandists report on battles since time in memoriam. Full of half truths and assumptions.
When it comes to Elon Musk, for whatever reason, everything he says and does is taken a axiom on blind faith, and when someone questions him, he (and his fan base) appear to become emotionally defensive and verbally combative; both hallmarks of true ideologists. Like his claim his Boring company can drill tunnels for the fraction of the cost of other boring machines, when the fact is it costs him just as much if not more than other companies. Just as he hides the specs on how much his electric big rigs weigh, he obscures the fact his boring machine makes tunnels barely big enough to fit a single mid-sized automobile. The Chunnel, for example, has two tunnels, each 25 feet in diameter. When tunnel diameter (material removed) is taken into account, the costs of material removal on a per unit basis are no different.
And while his watered-down subway gains fame, so too does his so-called Hyperloop; the latter of which is an idea that has been around for well over 100 years (see vactrain). Despite this fact, it appeared to me that he not so surreptitiously took credit for its invention in an interview with fan/reporter, Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily several years ago.
There are many reasons as to why the vactrain (or Hyperloop as Elon has renamed it) hasn’t seen the light of day since its vision was imagined 2 centuries ago. Those reasons have to do with fundamental physics, not the least of which has to do with basic thermodynamics.
The short-term thinking of engineers involved in developing the Hyperloop (a true pipe dream if ever there was one), was made very clear to me on a flight to Los Angeles about a year or so ago. Sitting next to me by chance was a student engineer who was taking part in a Hyperloop pod race. A race out of which (notably) not a single pod made it to the finish line.
During that flight, I asked the student what he and his team intended to do about linear thermal expansion of the vacuum tube over such great distances as proposed by Elon Musk, and his response was something along the line that such matters were not his (or their) concern. He was only tasked with designing the pod. How tell-tale that sort of tunnel vision was.
Kind of like your average college campus, where one department of science (say geology), doesn’t communicate with another department (say, chemistry), despite the fact both could benefit from cross-discipline cooperation and interaction, and probably could help keep each other from otherwise spinning their wheels so to speak.
There will never be a vactrain. At least not one that is physically, and economically feasible. Contrary to popular belief, anything is NOT possible, and to understand that has nothing to do with pessimism. It has to do with common sense; something society seems to be losing en masse. And as for his, er, subwayloop… 16-passenger cars with neon lights is funny enough, but to lower a Tesla at a time from street level to be ferried on subterranean tracks. Now that’s just embarrassingly stupid.