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It’s Showtime for Elon Musk’s Boring Co., With a Long Way to Go




HAWTHORNE, Calif. — Fed up with Southern California vehicle snarls, Elon Musk set out to solve the persistent urban irritant: the traffic. But rather than build atop the highway system, where his Tesla cars travel, or in the sky, home to his SpaceX rockets, he sought an answer under his feet: tunnels.

“I said, ‘What if we go down instead of up?’” Mr. Musk told Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles during a recent public discussion. “I’ve lived in L.A. now since 2002. Traffic has gone from bad to horrific back to bad.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Musk unveiled the first mile-long stretch of his underground vision of a transit system in Hawthorne, a suburb of 90,000 people about 15 miles southwest of Los Angeles. It is the home of both SpaceX and his tunneling enterprise, called the Boring Company.

But the promotional event, which attracted hundreds of people who lined up to see the tunnel, fell short of earlier promises of a system that could transport up to 16 people at a time in electric-powered pods. Mr. Musk said he had abandoned that concept in favor of a system using more conventional passenger vehicles.

“So what we believe we have here is a real solution to the traffic problem we have on earth,” Mr. Musk told reporters. “It’s much more like an underground highway.”

Angie Reyes English, a former member of the Hawthorne City Council, was among the first visitors to go through the tunnel. She said she had voted for the project and was glad to see the result.

“It’s a little bumpy,” Ms. English said. “I believe it’s going to be improved. It’s a test tunnel. I think it was cleverly done.”

The entrance to the tunnel sits across the street from the SpaceX headquarters and the Hawthorne Municipal Airport, next to a single-family residence and behind some storefront-style buildings.

Test rides on Tuesday featured Tesla Model X electric cars that were lowered on a circular panel to a lighted pathway several stories underground that is wide enough for a single vehicle. The concrete walls are painted white, with a single fluorescent bar on the ceiling that lights up blue or green throughout the tunnel’s length.

A pair of clamps attached to the Tesla’s front wheels keeps the car on the track as the vehicle moves under its own power. The company says speeds of 150 miles per hour will be possible, though the test run was far slower.

Until now, the company has used standard tunneling equipment, but it expects to roll out newly engineered technology as its efforts continue. Mr. Musk said about $10 million was spent on the first mile of the system, which took about a year to complete, largely because of hurdles with permits and licenses.

But costs are likely to rise. Subway tunneling elsewhere in the world can cost $1 billion a mile or more; Mr. Musk has said that figure must be reduced by a factor of 10 to make his system viable on a larger scale.

Even then, the Hawthorne tunnel is at best a proof of concept. To make such a system extensive enough to serve one of the world’s biggest metropolitan areas, with private funding, seems a herculean proposition.

One hurdle may be to convince urban planners that it is a practical way of easing the traffic crush.

“I like technology,” James E. Moore, director of the transportation engineering program at the University of Southern California, said this week. “I admire Elon Musk. So I want to say, ‘Yes, this is a good idea,’ but I really can’t.”

Mr. Moore said solving traffic problems did not require building anything new. He said the more important consideration was how to better manage what we already have, “before we look up or down, before I look at either one.”

“We’ve never built our way out of congestion,” Mr. Moore said. “I think there are cheaper ways to provide better transportation for large numbers of people.” For example, Mr. Moore said managing highway traffic with tolls or other economic policies could help reduce congestion.

During his public conversation with Mr. Musk last month, Mr. Garcetti noted that many of “the folks who make tunnels” were skeptical of Mr. Musk’s plans, but he added: “This is much larger than a tunnel. You’re talking about a transportation system.”

The tunnel was first expected to be more of a mass-transit system, but that prospect seems gone with the decision not to use the 16-passenger pods.

The system that Mr. Musk proposes for Los Angeles, called a loop, is distinct from the transportation mode known as a hyperloop — something he and others are also developing. The hyperloop uses a vacuum to reduce friction to achieve speeds up to 600 m.p.h., while the loop does not require that technology because it is designed for slower speeds and shorter distances.

“The loop is a step toward hyperloop,” Mr. Musk said.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is also developing a hyperloop, called Virgin Hyperloop One. The venture has built a test track in the Nevada desert and is in talks to build a line connecting Kansas City and St. Louis.

Mr. Musk said his concepts had attracted significant attention from cities across the country, and he defended tunneling against criticism that it might be disruptive to neighborhoods. “You cannot see, hear or feel tunnel construction,” Mr. Musk said.

Last month, however, the company dropped plans for a tunnel in West Los Angeles in settling an environmental lawsuit brought by neighborhood groups. Mr. Musk said that the tunnel was no longer needed and that the company was focusing on other projects.

In addition to its efforts in the Los Angeles area, the Boring Company is proposing lines in Chicago and the Washington-Baltimore corridor. The company raised $112.5 million in capital earlier this year, with more than 90 percent coming from Mr. Musk, whose net worth has been estimated at more than $20 billion.

The Boring Company is still determining what its fares will be but says they will be comparable to those in other mass-transit systems, or cheaper. Mr. Musk said passengers not riding in their own cars might be transported in vehicles owned by the Boring Company for about $1 per ride.

“If it’s our capital, if it’s public capital, I wouldn’t do it,” Mr. Moore said of Mr. Musk’s loop project. “But he should feel free to risk all of the capital he can assemble.”


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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton




OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

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The program is officially set to launch this September.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training




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The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test




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Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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