Welcome The future we’re building — and boring | Elon Musk I will share about with you The future we’re building — and boring | Elon Musk
The future technology
Chris Anderson: Elon, hey, welcome back to TED. It’s great to have you here. Elon Musk: Thanks for having me. CA: So, in the next half hour or so, we’re going to spend some time exploring your vision for what an exciting future might look like, which I guess makes the first question a little ironic: Why are you boring? EM: Yeah. I ask myself that frequently. We’re trying to dig a hole under LA, and this is to create the beginning of what will hopefully be a 3D network of tunnels to alleviate congestion. So right now, one of the most soul-destroying things is traffic. It affects people every part of the world. It takes away so much of your life. It’s horrible. It’s particularly horrible in LA. (Laughter) CA: I think you’ve brought with you the first visualization that’s been shown of this.
The future building technology
Can I show this? EM: Yeah, absolutely.So this is the first time — Just to show what we’re talking about. So a couple of key thingsthat are important in having a 3D tunnel network. First of all, you have to be able to integrate the entranceand exit of the tunnel seamlessly into the fabric of the city. So by having an elevator, sort of a car skate,that’s on an elevator, you can integrate the entranceand exits to the tunnel network just by using two parking spaces.
There’s no speed limit here, so we’re designing this to be able to operate at 200 kilometres an hour. CA: How much? EM: 200 kilometres an hour, or about 130 miles per hour. So you should be able to get from, say, Westwood to LAX in six minutes — five, six minutes. (Applause) CA: So possibly, initially done, it’s like on a sort of toll road-type basis. EM: Yeah. CA: Which, I guess, alleviates some traffic from the surface streets as well. EM: So, I don’t know if people noticed it in the video, but there’s no real limit to how many levels of the tunnel you can have. You can go much further deep than you can go up.
The deepest mines are much deeperthan the tallest buildings are tall, so you can alleviate any arbitrarylevel of urban congestion with a 3D tunnel network. This is a very important point. So a key rebuttal to the tunnelsis that if you add one layer of tunnels, that will simply alleviate congestion,it will get used up, and then you’ll be back where you started,back with congestion. But you can go to anyarbitrary number of tunnels, any number of levels. CA: But people — seen traditionally,it’s incredibly expensive to dig, and that would block this idea.
To give you an example,the LA subway extension, which is — I think it’sa two-and-a-half mile extension that was just completedfor two billion dollars. So it’s roughly a billion dollars a mileto do the subway extension in LA. And this is not the highestutility subway in the world. So yeah, it’s quite difficultto dig tunnels normally. I think we need to haveat least a tenfold improvement in the cost per mile of tunneling.
CA: And how could you achieve that? EM: Actually, if you just do two things, you can get to approximatelyan order of magnitude improvement, and I think you can go beyond that. So the first thing to dois to cut the tunnel diameter by a factor of two or more. So a single road lane tunnelaccording to regulations has to be 26 feet,maybe 28 feet in diameter to allow for crashesand emergency vehicles and sufficient ventilationfor combustion engine cars.
But if you shrink that diameterto what we’re attempting, which is 12 feet, which is plentyto get an electric skate through, you drop the diameter by a factor of two and the cross-sectional areaby a factor of four, and the tunneling cost scaleswith the cross-sectional area. So that’s roughly a half-orderof magnitude improvement right there.
Then tunneling machines currently tunnelfor half the time, then they stop, and then the rest of the timeis putting in reinforcements for the tunnel wall. So if you design the machine instead to do continuoustunneling and reinforcing, that will give youa factor of two improvement. Combine that and that’s a factor of eight. Also these machines are far from beingat their power or thermal limits, so you can jack up the powerto the machine substantially. I think you can getat least a factor of two, maybe a factor of four or fiveimprovement on top of that.
So I think there’s a fairlystraightforward series of steps to get somewhere in excessof an order of magnitude improvement in the cost per mile, and our target actually is — we’ve got a pet snail called Gary, this is from Gary the snailfrom “South Park,” I mean, sorry, “SpongeBob SquarePants.” (Laughter) So Gary is capable of — currently he’s capableof going 14 times faster than a tunnel-boring machine. (Laughter) CA: You want to beat Gary. EM: We want to beat Gary.
(Laughter) He’s not a patient little fellow, and that will be victory. Victory is beating the snail. CA: But a lot of people imagining,dreaming about future cities, they imagine that actuallythe solution is flying cars, drones, etc. You go aboveground. Why isn’t that a better solution? You save all that tunneling cost. EM: Right. I’m in favor of flying things. Obviously, I do rockets,so I like things that fly. This is not some inherent biasagainst flying things, but there is a challenge with flying cars in that they’ll be quite noisy, the wind force generatedwill be very high.
Let’s just say that if something’sflying over your head, a whole bunch of flying carsgoing all over the place, that is not an anxiety-reducing situation. (Laughter) You don’t think to yourself,”Well, I feel better about today.” You’re thinking,”Did they service their hubcap, or is it going to come offand guillotine me?” Things like that. CA: So you’ve got this vision of future cities with these rich,3D networks of tunnels underneath.
Is there a tie-in here with Hyperloop? Could you apply these tunnelsto use for this Hyperloop idea you released a few years ago. EM: Yeah, so we’ve beensort of puttering around with the Hyperloop stuff for a while. We built a Hyperloop test trackadjacent to SpaceX, just for a student competition, to encourage innovativeideas in transport. And it actually ends up beingthe biggest vacuum chamber in the world after the Large Hadron Collider, by volume. So it was quite fun to do that,but it was kind of a hobby thing, and then we think we might — so we’ve built a little pusher carto push the student pods, but we’re going to try seeinghow fast we can make the pusher go if it’s not pushing something.
So we’re cautiously optimistic we’ll be able to be fasterthan the world’s fastest bullet train even in a .8-mile stretch. CA: Whoa. Good brakes. EM: Yeah, I mean, it’s — yeah. It’s either going to smashinto tiny pieces or go quite fast. CA: But you can picture,then, a Hyperloop in a tunnel running quite long distances. EM: Exactly. And looking at tunneling technology, it turns out thatin order to make a tunnel, you have to — In order to seal against the water table, you’ve got to typically designa tunnel wall to be good to about five or six atmospheres. So to go to vacuum is only one atmosphere, or near-vacuum. So actually, it sort of turns outthat automatically, if you build a tunnel that is good enoughto resist the water table, it is automaticallycapable of holding vacuum.
CA: Huh. EM: So, yeah. CA: And so you could actually picture, what kind of length tunnelis in Elon’s future to running Hyperloop? EM: I think there’s no real length limit. You could dig as much as you want. I think if you were to do something like a DC-to-New York Hyperloop, I think you’d probably wantto go underground the entire way because it’s a high-density area. You’re going undera lot of buildings and houses, and if you go deep enough, you cannot detect the tunnel. Sometimes people think,well, it’s going to be pretty annoying to have a tunnel dug under my house. Like, if that tunnel is dug more than about three or fourtunnel diameters beneath your house, you will not be ableto detect it being dug at all. In fact, if you’re ableto detect the tunnel being dug, whatever device you are using, you can get a lot of moneyfor that device from the Israeli military, who is trying to detecttunnels from Hamas, and from the US Customs and Border patrolthat try and detect drug tunnels.
So the reality is that earth is incredibly goodat absorbing vibrations, and once the tunnel depthis below a certain level, it is undetectable. Maybe if you have a very sensitiveseismic instrument, you might be able to detect it. CA: So you’ve starteda new company to do this called The Boring Company. Very nice. Very funny. (Laughter) EM: What’s funny about that? (Laughter) CA: How much of your time is this? EM: It’s maybe … two or three percent. CA: You’ve called it a hobby. This is what an Elon Muskhobby looks like. (Laughter) EM: I mean, it really is, like — This is basically internsand people doing it part time. We bought some second-hand machinery. It’s kind of puttering along,but it’s making good progress, so — CA: So an even bigger part of your time is being spent on electrifyingcars and transport through Tesla. Is one of the motivationsfor the tunneling project the realization that actually, in a world where cars are electricand where they’re self-driving, there may end up beingmore cars on the roads on any given hour than there are now? EM: Yeah, exactly.
A lot of people thinkthat when you make cars autonomous, they’ll be able to go fasterand that will alleviate congestion. And to some degree that will be true, but once you have shared autonomywhere it’s much cheaper to go by car and you can go point to point, the affordability of going in a carwill be better than that of a bus. Like, it will cost less than a bus ticket. So the amount of driving that will occurwill be much greater with shared autonomy, and actually traffic will get far worse. CA: You started Teslawith the goal of persuading the world that electrificationwas the future of cars, and a few years ago,people were laughing at you. Now, not so much. EM: OK. (Laughter) I don’t know. I don’t know. CA: But isn’t it true that pretty muchevery auto manufacturer has announcedserious electrification plans for the short- to medium-term future? EM: Yeah. Yeah.
I think almost every automakerhas some electric vehicle program. They vary in seriousness. Some are very seriousabout transitioning entirely to electric, and some are just dabbling in it. And some, amazingly,are still pursuing fuel cells, but I think that won’t last much longer. CA: But isn’t there a sense, though, Elon, where you can now just declare victoryand say, you know, “We did it.” Let the world electrify,and you go on and focus on other stuff? EM: Yeah. I intend to stay with Teslaas far into the future as I can imagine, and there are a lot of excitingthings that we have coming. Obviously the Model 3 is coming soon. We’ll be unveiling the Tesla Semi truck. CA: OK, we’re going to come to this. So Model 3, it’s supposedto be coming in July-ish. EM: Yeah, it’s looking quite goodfor starting production in July. CA: Wow.
One of the thingsthat people are so excited about is the fact that it’s got autopilot. And you put out this video a while back showing what that technologywould look like. EM: Yeah. CA: There’s obviously autopilotin Model S right now. What are we seeing here? EM: Yeah, so this is usingonly cameras and GPS. So there’s no LIDARor radar being used here. This is just using passive optical,which is essentially what a person uses. The whole road systemis meant to be navigated with passive optical, or cameras, and so once you solve cameras or vision, then autonomy is solved. If you don’t solve vision,it’s not solved.
So that’s why our focus isso heavily on having a vision neural net that’s very effective for road conditions. CA: Right. Many other peopleare going the LIDAR route. You want cameras plus radar is most of it. EM: You can absolutelybe superhuman with just cameras. Like, you can probably do itten times better than humans would, just cameras. CA: So the new cars being sold right nowhave eight cameras in them. They can’t yet do what that showed. When will they be able to? EM: I think we’re still on trackfor being able to go cross-country from LA to New York by the endof the year, fully autonomous. CA: OK, so by the endof the year, you’re saying, someone’s going to sit in a Teslawithout touching the steering wheel, tap in “New York,” off it goes. EM: Yeah. CA: Won’t ever have to touch the wheel –by the end of 2017. EM: Yeah.
Essentially,November or December of this year, we should be able to go all the wayfrom a parking lot in California to a parking lot in New York, no controls touched at any pointduring the entire journey. (Applause) CA: Amazing. But part of that is possible because you’ve already got a fleetof Teslas driving all these roads. You’re accumulating a huge amountof data of that national road system. EM: Yes, but the thingthat will be interesting is that I’m actually fairly confidentit will be able to do that route even if you change the route dynamically. So, it’s fairly easy — If you say I’m going to be really goodat one specific route, that’s one thing, but it should be able to go,really be very good, certainly once you enter a highway, to go anywhere on the highway system in a given country.
So it’s not sort of limitedto LA to New York. We could change itand make it Seattle-Florida, that day, in real time. So you were going from LA to New York. Now go from LA to Toronto. CA: So leaving asideregulation for a second, in terms of the technology alone, the time when someonewill be able to buy one of your cars and literally just take the handsoff the wheel and go to sleep and wake up and find that they’ve arrived, how far away is that, to do that safely? EM: I think that’s about two years. So the real trick of itis not how do you make it work say 99.9 percent of the time, because, like, if a car crashesone in a thousand times, then you’re probably still not goingto be comfortable falling asleep. You shouldn’t be, certainly. (Laughter) It’s never going to be perfect. No system is going to be perfect, but if you say it’s perhaps — the car is unlikely to crash in a hundred lifetimes,or a thousand lifetimes, then people are like, OK, wow,if I were to live a thousand lives, I would still most likelynever experience a crash, then that’s probably OK. CA: To sleep. I guess the big concern of yoursis that people may actually get seduced too earlyto think that this is safe, and that you’ll have some horribleincident happen that puts things back. EM: Well, I think that the autonomy systemis likely to at least mitigate the crash, except in rare circumstances.
The thing to appreciateabout vehicle safety is this is probabilistic. I mean, there’s some chance that any timea human driver gets in a car, that they will have an accidentthat is their fault. It’s never zero. So really the key threshold for autonomy is how much better does autonomyneed to be than a person before you can rely on it? CA: But once you getliterally safe hands-off driving, the power to disruptthe whole industry seems massive, because at that point you’ve spokenof people being able to buy a car, drops you off at work,and then you let it go and provide a sort of Uber-likeservice to other people, earn you money, maybe even cover the costof your lease of that car, so you can kind of get a car for free. Is that really likely? EM: Yeah. Absolutelythis is what will happen. So there will be a shared autonomy fleet where you buy your car and you can chooseto use that car exclusively, you could choose to have it be usedonly by friends and family, only by other driverswho are rated five star, you can choose to share it sometimesbut not other times. That’s 100 percent what will occur.
It’s just a question of when. CA: Wow. So you mentioned the Semi and I think you’re planningto announce this in September, but I’m curious whether there’sanything you could show us today? EM: I will show youa teaser shot of the truck. (Laughter) It’s alive. CA: OK. EM: That’s definitely a casewhere we want to be cautious about the autonomy features. Yeah. (Laughter) CA: We can’t see that much of it, but it doesn’t look likejust a little friendly neighborhood truck. It looks kind of badass. What sort of semi is this? EM: So this is a heavy duty,long-range semitruck.
So it’s the highest weight capability and with long range. So essentially it’s meant to alleviatethe heavy-duty trucking loads. And this is something whichpeople do not today think is possible. They think the truck doesn’t have enoughpower or it doesn’t have enough range, and then with the Tesla Semi we want to show that no, an electric truck actually can out-torque any diesel semi. And if you had a tug-of-war competition, the Tesla Semiwill tug the diesel semi uphill. (Laughter) (Applause) CA: That’s pretty cool.And short term, these aren’t driverless. These are going to be trucksthat truck drivers want to drive. EM: Yes. So what will bereally fun about this is you have a flat torque RPM curvewith an electric motor, whereas with a diesel motor or any kindof internal combustion engine car, you’ve got a torque RPM curvethat looks like a hill. So this will be a very spry truck.
You can drive thisaround like a sports car. There’s no gears.It’s, like, single speed. CA: There’s a great movieto be made here somewhere. I don’t know what it isand I don’t know that it ends well, but it’s a great movie. (Laughter) EM: It’s quite bizarre test-driving. When I was driving the test prototypefor the first truck. It’s really weird,because you’re driving around and you’re just so nimble,and you’re in this giant truck. CA: Wait, you’vealready driven a prototype? EM: Yeah, I drove itaround the parking lot, and I was like, this is crazy. CA: Wow.
This is no vaporware. EM: It’s just like, driving this giant truck and making these mad manoeuvres. CA: This is cool.OK, from a really badass picture to a kind of less badass picture. This is just a cute house from “Desperate Housewives” or something. What on earth is going on here? EM: Well, this illustrates the picture of the future that I think is how things will evolve. You’ve got an electric car in the driveway. If you look in between the electric car and the house, there are actually three Powerwallsstacked up against the side of the house, and then that house roof is a solar roof. So that’s an actual solar glass roof. CA: OK. EM: That’s a picture of a real –well, admittedly, it’s a real fake house.