The TUM Boring team in Las Vegas
photo: TUM Boring

TUM Boring Wins Elon Musk Challenge: How the Competition Went

Together with 400 other applicants from around the world, the student team TUM Boring took part in Elon Musk’s ‘Not-a-Boring Competition’ – and won. Erik Mahler is a member of TUM Boring and told us about the tunnel boring competition in Las Vegas in our interview.

Elon Musk’s Boring Company gave applicants around the world a clear task: Who is the fastest to bore an accurate 30 meter long tunnel with a diameter of approximately 50 centimeters that a remote control car can drive through? 400 teams applied to participate, 12 were invited to the final in Las Vegas, including TUM Boring from Munich. The team of students was supported by sponsors and was able to raise additional funds through a crowdfunding campaign. Erik Mahler is one of the 60 members of the project and told us about the challenge, his role and plans for the future. The 24-year-old is studying business administration at the LMU and technology management at the CDTM.

Munich Startup: How did you become part of the TUM Boring team? What motivated you?

Erik Mahler: I’ve been interested in urban planning, architecture and project development for many years. For all of the topics that fascinate me but have little to do with my major at the LMU, I’m always looking for ways to learn more about them. So what definitely motivated me in terms of TUM Boring was getting a better understanding of: What makes tunnel boring so expensive? Why do we need several years to build short tunnels in Munich? Is there a new way to look at it? I found out about TUM Boring through LinkedIn. I finally joined the team after coming back from a semester abroad.

“Interdisciplinary work is fulfilling to me”

Munich Startup: What role do you play in the team?

Erik Mahler: TUM Boring is organized in the sub-divisions tech and operations. In collaboration with my colleagues in the operations team, my main focus was on how to finance our machine. With a 22-ton machine, you’re talking about high six-digit figures. The main goal of the sponsoring team was to allow our engineers to make the very most of our potential. Together, we were able to convince more than 80 competent partner companies of our vision. And that’s all thanks to the amazing performance of the entire team. Especially during the critical phase of building the machine starting in June 2021, our roles became increasingly fluid – so even members of the operations team were able to help build the machine.

Munich Startup: How would you like to personally benefit from the experience?

Erik Mahler: Interdisciplinary work is fulfilling to me. I benefit in particular from working together with people with different backgrounds and from learning from them. Other people’s unfiltered enthusiasm about a topic often makes me want to learn more – regardless of how unfamiliar it might have been to me to begin with. You often benefit from that kind of interaction unexpectedly and after some time – we’ll see what the future will bring!

Munich Startup: Before traveling to the Not-a-Boring Competition in Las Vegas, you successfully raised money with crowdfunding. What was the mood like before leaving? Did you expect to be so successful?

Erik Mahler: The crowdfunding campaign was a successful milestone for us – we reached our target amount in next to no time. In addition to our sponsoring partnerships, we were also able to reach friends, relatives, acquaintances and enthusiasts. That made it possible to make people a part of the project even if they didn’t work for one of our partner companies. Thanks to the creative talent provided by Max Emrich, we were able to offer impressive designs for things like shirts and crewnecks in return. It was a true success for everyone!

TUM Boring celebrated its success in Hofbräuhaus – in Las Vegas

Munich Startup: Tell us about how things went during the competition.

Erik Mahler: On the day of the competition, the importance of our rigorous preparation became apparent. As has been reported in some articles, there was a tough selection process before tunneling began. Just the challenge that the teams faced in terms of completing the machines, transporting them to Las Vegas and assembling them there was tremendous. The safety checks that followed meant that some of the teams weren’t even allowed to start. What was extremely helpful for us in the process was that we had already had a chance to test our machine several weeks before the competition. After we had bored close to the 30-meter mark, it became clear that other teams wouldn’t outperform us. We would have liked to have bored to the end, but unfortunately weren’t allowed to.

Munich Startup: How did you celebrate your win?

Erik Mahler: To satisfy all of the Las Vegas clichés, at the local Hofbräuhaus. Some of us then took advantage of being in the US and extended our stays to travel and go on road trips.

Munich Startup: What projects are now planned for TUM Boring?

Erik Mahler: First, we’d like to see what the Boring Company decides to do. Will there be a follow-up competition? If so, what will it be like? But otherwise, so soon after this year’s event, it’s a matter of thinking about and getting a feel for what would be possible as a team. Of course, there are lots of individual ideas – I think it would be great, for example, for the City of Munich to approach us with exciting, more local ideas. Elon’s plans are focused more on private transportation – but there are different priorities in Europe, for example subway construction. Now it’s a matter of collecting all of our team’s ideas and developing them further.

Munich Startup: Two years ago, the team TUM Hyperloop also competed in an Elon Musk competition and won all four rounds. What’s the secret behind student team success at TU Munich?

Erik Mahler: I think it’s become a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” What I mean by that is that the TU’s openness and support for these kinds of projects creates a breeding ground for talent to come together. Our team demonstrates just that: A lot of us are from Hochschule München or, like me, are from LMU. Because TUM has managed to bring forth strong initiatives time and again, new founders feel confident about being able to do the same with their ideas. So things will probably come full circle again in the future as well.