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Construction Science Fiction: TIPORO and the Megacity Hero

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"For the hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men."—Henry David Thoreau

“12 minutes and 48 seconds to lunch. [Image of Lunch Items] Total calories: 428. Today’s bonus for arriving on time: [Image of chocolate ice cream] 35 calories”

George’s workroom walls flashed.

“Will we be seeing you for lunch?”

“Yes, Grandma!“ answered George via video. “Let me upgrade this water pipe and I’ll be right there.

George, now 16 years old, was a licensed Professional Ocean Engineer (POE). He had just completed the oceanic infrastructure mastery program at the International Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (IOAA, formerly known as NOAA). Oceans were the major source of organic food, energy and water to the 11 billion people living in megacities.

George worked with his grandparents, now in their early 100s, at Megacity Builders Inc. in Miami. Megacity Builders Inc. was the largest architectural, engineering, design and construction firm in the world. True to its name, it surpassed all competitors in the number of Top 500 industry awards accumulated over the past 10 years.

“And George …”—Grandma appeared on the video screen—“… signal a Homebot to dice a tomato, please?”

“Da Da Da Dice it is …” sang George to the lyrics of the famous 2070s song.

Grandma laughed. “Rockstar engineer!”

George quickly accessed Homebot-2’s remote system and sequenced the Gardener and Chef apps.

Homebot-2 was one of the caretaker bots of their urban rooftop garden. It auto-detected a cracked window near the tomato vine. The “safety code” overrode and Homebot-2 carefully removed the window, then restored the cracked glass by melting and 3D-reprinting it on the spot. The bot then precision-diced the genetically modified 20th-century-watermelon-sized tomato and shipped it to the kitchen through the vacuum food chute.

“Requesting permission to upgrade sub-network sector pipe EB38.00-192.” George sent the wireless request with project information to the United Waters of America’s Ocean Infrastructure Division (UWAOID). At UWAOID, Jack simulated and analyzed the plan under multiple scenarios spanning the full operational life cycle. He used the Intel-powered 240,000 SC (Super Computer) zero-latency Brainnet farm, itself sited underwater and cooled by the ocean currents. Instantly, the project plan record set was updated with an encrypted digital signature stamp: “Approved for immediate underwater construction, by Jack Cook, POE.

George’s 180SC TIdal-POwered RObot, nicknamed TIPORO, lowered itself into the ocean water from station EB38.00.192, located at 24° 28' 46.7400'' N Lat. and 81° 46' 41.1852'' W. Long., on the historical Uscuba Bridge that connected Havana and Miami through the regions of Homestead, Rabbit Key Basin and Key West. The Uscuba Bridge across the Straits of Florida was one of the world’s great engineering marvels. It was designed and built in 2049 by a global team of AEC firms. It was now home to the world’s largest Tidal Power Plant and five-yipstar seafood restaurants. Solar-bladed windmills topped the six-lane expressway’s towers; hydro-turbines embedded within the piers harvested energy from captured ocean currents.

“Daddy! Daddy! Look! Look! Ocean robot!” screamed Kathy. She was sitting one of the green autocars on the sea-facing lanes.“I wonder if it’s the Transformer edition!”

The walls within George’s room concaved into a dome shape, with realistic screens transmitting the 360° camera live feed from TIPORO.

“Kathy, 8, from autocar FL098 on Sawyer Bridge, is requesting permission to view TIPORO’s camera with her friends. Share live feed publicly?”

George gestured “OK” to the heads-up display with a hands-free smile and wink.

A Mass Fragrometer quickly simulated the ocean fragrance inside George’s workroom. “Ahh, nothing like the scent of fresh ocean air,” said George, as he gestured commands to TIPORO to lower to the ocean floor.

“Squawk! Squawk! Squa …” Seagull sounds faded away into the distance.

George could see the large engravings in Latin: “EX US ET CUBA GRATIA SEMPER ALIQUID NOVI (There’s always something new out of US and Cuban kindness), 2049” on the bridge deck as TIPORO lowered into the deep blue ocean waves. Seven feet beneath the surface, George observed a historical monument set on the pier: ‘Mean Sea Level, Year 2049’.

TIPORO emitted ultrasonic signals to safely discourage fish from entering the work zone.

“Execute pipe EB38.00-192-approved plan,” commanded George with a serious tone.

TIPORO adjusted its position via Live Google Water Map and cut through the ocean bed using focused laser energy.

George’s room filled up with the augmented holographic view of the ocean environment. George gestured, asking TIPORO to replace the last 60” osmotic-skin water pipe in the sub-network with a 72” osmotic-skin water pipe. TIPORO melted hard rock into a lava puddle in situ, depositing it around the pipe to weld it in place. Meanwhile, Kathy shared TIPORO’s live camera feed with her friends via the Futurebook app. Kathy and friends squealed in excitement as they watched rock melt into beautiful bright orange lava. 

“And let there be water!” said George, as the osmotic system in the pipes surface performed flawlessly to spec.

George got a message from TIPORO: “Sub-network sector pipe EB38.00-192 upgrade completed. Report card grade changed from D- to A. Water demand capacity increased by 3214 GPM.” 

“5 minutes to Lunch,” the auto-reminder flashed on the wall.

“Look at all those fishes moving like crazy!” squealed one of Kathy’s classmates. George observed schools of fish moving in different directions.

THUMPPPPPPPP!” Dirt from the ocean floor rose and blurred TIPORO’s cameras.

“SOS (Save Our Structure)! SOS! Seabed density change caused structural fracture on pier I781.2. Damper intact!” The bridge pier’s sensor sent signals to all nearby bots and UWAOID emergency center.

Jack from UWAOID appeared holographically. “Your repairbot is the closest to an emergency repair project and meets specs. Are you able to reroute your TIPORO to pier I781.2?”

George said: “Absolutely! I just saw it happen. Ready, TIPORO?”

TIPORO replied: “All systems available. Energy level 89%.”

“Let me send you the emergency repair plan from Brainnet,” suggested Jack.

“Download complete. Plan loaded,” messaged TIPORO, and synced with the pier I781.2’s sensor.

TIPORO scanned the identified bridge pier and sent an alert about a hairline structural crack. It loaded the plan that Jack sent.

TIPORO relayed: “Substructure scanned … Deployed robodive shield … FEA & CFD Analysis completed … Injected SuperEpoxy … Performed wet welding … Applied pile jacket … Repair Completed. Adhesion strength check completed. Reinforced superstructure seismic strength increased by 8%. Sending report to UWAOID.”

“Great job, George and TIPORO! We are grateful,” said Jack before vanishing.

A fleet of UWAOID patrolbots with flashing blue, white and red lights cruised along, scanning all the bridge components for structural integrity and calibrating the sensors.

“Data sync with patrolbot fleet completed,” messaged TIPORO. “Patrolbots found 5-star-rated luxuriant seaweed and organic Blackfin tuna within 0.8 miles. Permission to farm in fisherbot mode?”

George smiled and quoted Ned Land from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: “Perhaps it will be better to hunt it, in the interest of the kitchen.” He clenched his fist and yanked it backward, gesturing the command. TIPORO replied: “Fisherbot activated.” TIPORO spread seaweed seeds as it approached the farming destination.

“Bonus mission completed just in time for grandma’s chocolate ice cream!” said George cheerfully before heading toward the kitchen.

“I want to be a Professional Ocean Engineer when I grow up,” said Kathy, holding her daddy’s arm in the green autocar 192 miles away. This proclamation prompted a viral number of likes and high-fives from her friends on Futurebook.

George learned about the viral video and sent Kathy a videogram via Futurebook. In the videogram, George smiled and said: “Little girl, I’m so proud of you. But my greatest hope is that, by the time you take over this wonderful job, UWAOID will have adopted the metric system!”

 

GOVINDAN

Shar Govindan is Director, Social Learning, at Bentley Systems Inc. He frequently speaks at technical conferences and also serves as a co-chair of TSIA's Social Media Roundtable and on AWWA's Engineering Modeling Applications Committee. Shar holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Connecticut and is an avid ENR subscriber.

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

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