Elon Musk: help or hindrance?

Elon Musk has busied himself over the last few days tweeting out possible innovative, hi-tech solutions for rescuing the Thai kids from the cave.

Of course, many people think this is great, likening him to a real life Tony Stark deploying secret technologies in humanity’s hour of need. Ever the skeptic, I’m not so sure. I have no doubt that Musk means well and genuinely wants to help, but he’ll not be unaware of the PR value of this (and he seems to be as good at PR and self-promotion as anything else, to be honest). But he’s not there at the scene, and I suspect a few of the rescue team are getting a bit annoyed about having to divert time and attention to respond to whacky ideas from a billionaire sat on the other side of the world. Imagine you’re trying to work out how to get kids through a 15″ tunnel filled with water when this arrives:

Okay, that wasn’t from Musk, but you get the idea. I’m sure he means well, but I suspect his input is less a help than a hindrance.


10 thoughts on “Elon Musk: help or hindrance?

  1. Musk is entirely about self-promotion. If he was really wanting to help, he could do it simply with some cash. His ideas are just plan silly.

    “I’m sure he means well”

    A terrorist means well. They are trying to save the world in the name of god. That does not make their actions in anyway useful.

  2. He might have the solution right there. Alternatively, it might simply be that too many ideas and proposals overwhelm the team charged with coordinating the rescue. I believe similar things have happened when police have asked for help in enquiries. They have been flooded with information which takes up all their time to sift and sort, and the effect is to paralyse the operation. To deal with information needs a system to receive and process it. My guess is that cave rescuers are intensely practical people who don’t have the wherewithall to build or understand such a system. They are excellent at a small number of very daunting tasks, but get them off their patch and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are easily overwhelmed.

    Musk ought to use this opportunity to design testable solutions which can be used next time.

  3. Well, he seems to have done quite a bit of crazy shit that actually works, Tony stark style. His main problem has been in making any money at it (great at getting it funded, not so hot at making a return).

  4. I think I follow Musk’s thinking. Kids + problem… a bouncy castle!

    These things have internal baffles to stop immediate collapse if the fan trips out. The principle is low pressure high volume, i.e. the opposite of what you have with air tanks.
    No tube is going to stay inflated if the exit hole is at the top.
    Air locks? We really are talking spaceman Sam.
    Among other problems specific to the topography.

    Maybe a system could be designed, built, tested in a few months, if engineers volunteered to work round the clock.

    There are lots of other cranks out there with better ideas.

  5. He was supposedly sending engineers from his tunnel boring and rocket companies (i assume the latter would be turboprop experts). His public profile has only really taken off in the past few years mainly due to Tesla (I’ve been following SpaceX for the past 15 years of so, and was the only person among my group for friends who recognised his Iron Man 2 cameo)
    It seems though he is too late to have an impact this time, reports are the first boys have been rescued.

  6. Musk has got a lot of other people’s money metaphorically trapped and in imminent danger. He should have no time for anything else at the moment but releasing *that*.

    He’s made big promises and needs to deliver. Not worry about other people’s problems.

  7. Four of them now out, TG.

    Media has been cleared from cave site, boys transferred under blackout. Someone has bought the exclusive rights. Who? and more pertinently, who from?

  8. Bloke in Germany
    “Well, he seems to have done quite a bit of crazy shit that actually works, Tony stark style. ”

    I would seriously question that. Telsa was based on a good idea, make a cool electric supercar, but has completely lost it’s way, and Space-X is very largely based on existing technology. Everything else has been little more than a smoke and mirrors.

  9. It smacks of the usual instant expert type of ideas. Unless and until you have done whatever the subject is (in the case pot holing/cave exploration) then you don’t really have any idea of the practicalities or difficulties involved.

    However, he does have a platform (in the form of social media) and is a famous, or at least well known, name so people will ascribe to him the wisdom of the ages (c.f. Hollywood actors pontificating about stuff they know naff all about) and take him seriously.

    I would be asking the people that actually have experience and knowledge of the difficulties before spouting off.

    From pulling cables through ducts alongside motorways, I would opine that pulling a deflated tube 5 Kms through a water filled tunnel relying only on muscle power would be somewhat problematic (to put it mildly) and then forming airtight seals and airlocks in it a non starter. If the depths and pressures needed to inflate the tube are such that the people using it get the bends from the pressure differences, it isn’t exactly solving the problem, eh?

    Similarly, manoeuvring rescue pods through the tunnels with their twists and turns and narrow areas would be difficult, verging on impossible.

    So, from this jury member, nil points, he’s a hindrance and providing the information version of WW2 Chaff.

  10. Whatever his motives, Musk is blathering about something he doesn’t understand and where the only useful technologies are those that can be deployed right now and not after some unspecified period of R&D (however rapid). The perfect is the enemy of the good, and at this point there are genuine experts like British cave divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen on site with good solutions that should get the kids out safely. Little Rocket Man, STFU.

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