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TUM Boring – A tunnel for Musk

Beat The Snail – That is Elon Musk's challenge. 60 TU Munich students are willing to accept it.

It started with a simple Tweet: “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…” Shortly after both tweeting and creating a little pun, Elon Musk founded “The Boring Company”. It might sound boring, but actually, it is anything but boring. The company’s aim is clear: to sustainably change the future of mobility. The expansion of underground tunnel systems shall relieve traffic pressure. Thereby, jammed streets will belong to the past.

60 students are involved in the project of building the fastest tunnel boring machine.

Unusual challenges: to be faster than a snail

At first, it might not sound too complicated. However, it presents the Tesla and Space X founder with a challenge. To achieve his goals tunnel boring machines are needed. However, here’s the problem: snails are currently faster than average tunnel boring machines. While a snail can travel up to 100 meters within 24 hours, the boring machine only covers 40 meters per day. One of the reasons is the transportation of the construction material and the removal of the muck. Therefore, Musk chose a rather unconventional way to find a solution to his problem. Last year, he announced an international competition – the “Not-A-Boring Competition” – to finally "Beat the Snail."

60 students from 16 countries for a common goal

This timing was in favor of Kilian, a student at Technical University Munich and co-founder of the TUM Boring Team. At that time, he was already working on his tunnel-boring machine. Therefore, it was him, too, who took care of the application for the competition. By now, the team consists of more than 60 members from various study programs. Together, they developed the prototype of the tunnel boring machine, which eventually qualified for Musk’s competition final. Out of more than 400 applicants, the TU Munich Team is now among the last twelve. In September, the “Diggin Dozen” contestants will compete against each other in Las Vegas. There is a chance to win in three categories: the fastest machine, the most precise machine, and the neatest road surface. Finally, a remote-controlled mini-Tesla is then supposed to drive through the approximately 30-meter tunnel. The project is not only supported by the students’ professors but also by sponsors. Here, the individually manufactured slewing bearing makes the tunnel boring machine’s cutterhead spin. Furthermore, the students have also been able to benefit from the engineers’ expertise.

It’s happening soon – preparations are nearly finished

During the construction of the actual tunnel boring machine that is going to compete, the corona pandemic has not made it easy for the students. At times, they were only able to work on it in small teams at one go. However, they have been taking the challenge well so far and they are optimistic. “Obviously, it is very annoying and to some extent it crashed our schedule. However, through this experience we now know that we will be able to adjust even to last-minute changes during the competition itself,” says Daniel Pflüger from the TUM Boring Team.

Due to the upcoming competition, the team cannot talk about their tunnel boring machine in too much detail. What we can say for now is: automation plays an important role!

Once it’s time, we will cover the competition on our social media channels! So keep your eyes peeled if you want to get insights behind the scenes, see our thyssenkrupp rothe erde slewing bearing® in action and learn more about the students’ tunnel boring machine. Having a look at the TUM Boring Team’s social media accounts will be worth it, too.


***No snails were harmed in this project.***