TUM Boring Participates in New Elon Musk Challenge

Tesla founder Elon Musk has announced a new challenge. The 'Not-a-boring' 2021 competition challenges students worldwide to develop a tunnel boring machine that is faster and more accurate than those that currently exist. Each team must bore a tunnel 30 meters long and 50 cm wide in the shortest possible time. TUM Boring has taken up the challenge - no doubt inspired by the great success of the TUM Hyperloop team. An interview.

Munich Startup: Who are you and what does TUM Boring do? Please introduce yourselves!

TUM Boring: We are a team of 60 highly motivated students from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) coming from different nationalities and study backgrounds. We are inspired by engineering, and have teamed up to do a step towards solving traffic problems. By developing new tunneling solutions we can bring more quality of life to cities. Therefore, we are designing and building an innovative tunnel boring machine to participate in Elon Musk’s Not-a-boring competition 2021.

How TUM Boring benefits from Hyperloop

Munich Startup: The Hyperloop-team of the TU was winner of the previous Elon Musk challenge four times. How do you benefit from their success? How do you cooperate?

TUM Boring: The Hyperloop-team made people in Munich confident that a Munich based student initiative can take those highly complicated engineering challenges organized by Elon Musk and have great results. They have proven that a group of students can really make a change in the innovation process of intercity mobility. And we look forward to continuing this legacy. So we have been in close contact with them in the past months and we are very grateful for all the valuable advice they have provided us.

Munich Startup: How did you approach recruiting for TUM Boring? How could you grow so fast to 60 members?

TUM Boring: We are very lucky to be situated in the Munich, a city which has an amazing engineering ecosystem with a great industrial and academic scenario. This attracts students from all over the world to innovate in different technology-related areas. Therefore, the recruiting process was very smooth as the city had the people. We just needed to find them. For this, we used social media campaigns and recruiting inside the university by presenting the project in classes.

Creative solutions to improve communication

Munich Startup: Please name the challenges of working in such a huge and interdisciplinary team and how you cope with that?

TUM Boring: As a team, we are currently facing as a major challenge the current coronavirus pandemic situation. It has changed the interaction dynamics inside the team since we can’t meet in real life. This has been a great challenge as we are more than 60 people. But even with corona, we don’t give up! However, we had to come up with creative solutions to improve our communication online.

From an organizational perspective by doing general team and sub-team meetings on a weekly basis and using tools like Slack or Onedrive, and from a team-building perspective, we have come up with solutions like ‘random coffee’. Here we match each team member with another one every week so that they can have a video call and get to know other team members better. Although the pandemic has made interaction more complicated, we have had also some benefits from it as it has allowed us to work more internationally. Some of our members were in their home countries at the beginning of the project. So at some point, we had team meetings with people in Germany, Singapore and Egypt at the same time.

Munich Startup: How do you fund the project?

TUM Boring: We fund this project thanks to sponsors. This project would not be possible without the great support from industrial companies and the Technical University of Munich (TUM). They have been key partners in the realization of this project. We already count with some very nice sponsors and look forward to having new ones in the following months before the competition. 

TUM Boring seeks further sponsorship

Munich Startup: What are your next steps?

TUM Boring: Our next steps are looking for more sponsors and finishing our final design to prepare for the competition. 

Build the machine and ship it to California

Munich Startup: What does your timeline look like?

TUM Boring: We already passed the preliminary design phase in October. Currently we are working on our final design. Once it is ready we will build the machine and ship it to California where the competition will take place in spring 2021.

Munich Startup: There is three parts of the competition. Which of the three parts do you aim to win?

TUM Boring: This is something we are currently working on. And as the competition still is going on, this is a confidential point that – unfortunately – we can’t make public at this stage. But follow us on social media to get updates about it.

Munich Startup: How do you think you are able to win?

TUM Boring: We are very proud of our very motivated and competent team composed by amazing people who have previous experience working in many different subjects. And we strongly believe that by uniting all the knowledge and experiences that every individual has, we will be able to develop a very strong and innovative project.

Munich Startup: What do you think about Elon Musk? Do we need a German Elon Musk?

TUM Boring: It is very nice and important that Elon Musk is tackling the challenge of solving the current issues of intercity mobility. He thinks about problems from a first-principles perspective, identifying and finding solutions for some of the most important mobility problems in the world. 

And yes of course, Germany and the world always need more people working on difficult problems and trying to solve them – making a difference in the world.