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Construction Science Fiction: I Want To Be an Engineer

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"That's a drafting board, Will. It was largely used by architects to develop drawings of a building before construction," explained George, Will's grandfather, as they toured the Museum of Architecture and Engineering.

"I don't follow," Will replied. "I don't see how this flat panel could have been used for anything."

"Let me try to explain. Long ago, the technology for conveying ideas was primitive compared to today. This is from the days of the written word. We used pencils like this one to make pictures. See how one holds a pencil? It took a long time to render a sketch and even longer to lay out a full blueprint."

Will cut him off. "Blueprint?" he asked.

George explained how plans and specs were developed, reviewed and approved. He then took Will through other areas of the museum. There were a model plan room and boxes of files used in handoffs. Will was totally confused at the 2D CAD stations, having never seen a mouse and  having no clue how to interpret a two-dimensional drawing. He had more appreciation for the BIM station and was able to navigate structures like the Freedom Tower by touch, but it all felt slow and cumbersome.

A two-tone bell rang and a voice came on. "Dinner is ready."

George looked over at Will and said, "Let's finish this another time."  In a loud, commanding tone he said, "Program off." A light tone sounded, and a voice announced, "Acknowledged." The walls of the museum slowly vanished and were replaced with white walls and glass. The small, empty room overlooked a harbor full of ships and had a door in the wall behind them. George and Will left through this opening into the house’s dining room, which had a simple white table in its center.

The table was set for four, and Charlotte, Will's mother and George's daughter, entered with a tray of food. She carried in a tray of roast chicken, potatoes, and green beans. The three sat for dinner.

Will was always interested in construction. He had every generation of BuildABuilding from the 21st century dump trucks and bulldozers to today's technology of MassPrinters. He was just starting to play with the big-kid HoloBuilding tools that interfaced with MassPrinto and enabled developing large-scale models. But these were sophisticated toys, and the best he had done so far was to replicate and make small modifications to models in the library.

"So what did you learn today?" Charlotte asked Will.

"Oh, Grandpa showed me how buildings were designed last century. It seems so old and slow. I can't believe designs were on paper. How was anyone supposed to understand the building from a bunch of drawings? And to see men standing hundreds of feet in the air working on these buildings. It looks so unsafe."

"It was," George replied, "but that was what they had to work with then and plenty of amazing buildings were developed. Over time, new technologies and methodologies were introduced that brought new ways to plan buildings, new methods of construction, and new technologies available to implement in the building."

"I'm not following," Will replied. "Tonight I can use Holobuilding and picture a building. I can see it, I can change its design, I can select colors, I can choose components, and I can tell it how I want to play with the building. Fifteen minutes later, MassPrinto will print my building and I'll attach it into my city. "

George interupted, "Yes, yes, and that's not too different from how models are developed today. In fact, much of what you described was available at the start of the century with 3D glasses, the very early versions of the hologizer and 3-D printers. Tomorrow, I will show you what comes next—how actual buildings are constructed."

"Okay, you two. Enough shop talk. Will, finish up your dinner and then off to your room to finish your assignments"

That night, Will woke after hearing some noise. It must be Dad, he thought, and jumped out of bed to see him.

Will's Dad, Jim, works as a construction project manager just like George did before he retired. In fact, they first met on a job, that was how Charlotte met Jim , and now they are family. Jim works on complex construction projects involving multiple teams working across the globe. So, depending on the project and its status, Jim has to work at different times during the day. Currently, Jim's teams are working on the pour to build floors for a 160-story skyscraper being constructed for New Detroit.

"Dad!" exclaimed Will. George jumped, surprised to see Will up at such a late hour. But Will missed his Dad and took every opportunity to spend time with him.

"How are you doing buddy?" Jim asked.

"Good," replied Will. "Great actually. Grandpa took me to the Museum of Architecture and Engineering and showed me how buildings were designed and constructed last century. Kind of ridiculous if you ask me, but Grandpa explained that they did the best they could with what they had."

"And they did a lot. Much of what I do today isn't altogether different, but the technologies have advanced so much, enabling us to do a lot more, faster and safer. But listen, I have to get back to the site because there is a small issue."

"Oh. Can I come, please?" asked Will.

"Well. Uh. Okay. I think we can make this work, but only for a bit."

"Yes!" cheered Will.

They stepped into the hologizer and Jim said, "Lunabuild."

The walls transformed again. It was dark and disorienting. Will's eyes adjusted, and he could now see several people standing and looking out a large window. Beyond the window, he could see several robotic arms moving about. They were hovering above a large wall of concrete that appeared to be floating above a rocky, gray surface.

A man turned to look at Jim. "Jim, glad you are back. We’re not entirely certain about the effect of the …"

Will interupted, "Dad, where the heck are we … , is that …?"

"Earth, Will. Yes, that is Earth. We are projected onto the surface of the moon, where we are pouring Lunacrete for the floors of the building. Now hold on a sec." Will turned to the man, Xi, and said, "My apologies. This is my son, Will, and he's learning about construction. This is his first visit."

"No, it is I who must apoligize, Will,” said Xi, “for not welcoming you to Lunabuild. We build lunacrete structures here for all kinds of buildings and other needs. What you see in front of you is the 32nd floor of what will be Cosmic Tower in New Detroit. You see that barge off in the distance?"

Once Xi mentioned it, Will saw it floating quite far away. He nodded.

"That barge is delivering the 30th and 31st floors to the site,” Xi continued. “Without gravity, we can construct these floors with a lot more precision and strength out here on the lunar surface. Once constructed, it's relatively easy to transport them back to Earth—except for the entry back into the earth's atmosphere."

Jim jumped in. "I never understood how the hyperwindshield panels on the barges work, but they are not dissimilar to the curtain walls on the higher floors of skyscrapers. The molecular structure of the shield captures air particles, slows them down and channels them. In the case of the barges, air particles are channeled to the engines to reverse their direction and slow down the barge. In our buildings, they flow down the surface, creating energy to power the building and deliver chilled air."

Xi added, "Yes, it all flows from symbiotic engineering principles. You see …"

Will’s attention drifted as the discussion got more technical. He was mesmerized by the activity outside the window. The barge was long gone, but he could now see that multiple floors were being worked on simultaneously. He knew there were factories out here, but never in his dreams did he think that his Dad was involved in them. Did Dad come here regularly?

Jim cut in trying to get Xi back to business. "Xi, let's stop before we get to particle physics. Tell me what you know about the incident."

"Oh yes, of course. There was definitely a seismic event, and we're told that a large asteroid hit the surface, here." Xi points to a lunar model depicting their location, the location of the strike, and a simulated view of the asteroid striking the surface. "It hasn't been confirmed, but the cause is irrelevant for our purposes. Generally, any reverberations on the surface have no impact on the robots or what we're constructing since we're not mounted on the lunar surface, but this impact made a slight change in gravitational forces that was measurable."

"Has this happened before?" asked Will.

"Not that I know of, which is why we called a triage session. At this point, we're recommending some stress validations on the floor systems in process at the time. We'll lose a day to do the validations, but we'd rather err on the side of caution."

"Okay. We have room in the schedule. Approved to run your tests."

Jim turned to Will, "Seen enough?"

Will's attention was on the arriving barge, coming back from Earth to pick up its next shipment.

"Are you kidding? I want to watch all this!"

Jim smiled, "I know, but it is a school night and your mom is going to have a few choice words for me about bringing you here."

"Awww," Will was replying when he heard his Dad say "End Program," and just like that, they were back in the apartment.

"Can I go back?" Will asked.

"Someday, but off to bed. You better be on your game tomorrow."

"Thanks Dad."

Back into bed, but before turning out the lights Will made an entry in his ediary.

"I want to be an engineer."

 

SACOLICK

Isaac Sacolick (@NYIke) is chief information officer at McGraw Hill Construction, and oversees the technology of the Dodge Global Network, Dodge Business Intelligence, Sweets.com, and the technologies used on Engineering News-Record and Architectural Record. He has contributed articles to ENR, moderated panels at ENR FutureTech and oversees the FutureTech CIO Panel. Isaac writes about the CIO role, Big Data, the Internet of Things, and enterprise agile practices on his blog Social, Agile and Transformation.

To see all of the stories in ENR's Imagining Construction's Future science fiction collection, click here.

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