Builders will be half man, half machine, and virtual foremen will run sites, according to a vision of construction in 2045 released to mark what has become dubbed Back to the Future Day.
Ian Pearson - a futurologist who claims to have invented text messaging – outlined his predictions of how infrastructure will look in 30 years’ time in a report for plant hire firm Hewden.
The study, 2045 Constructing the Future, takes us 30 years forward from 21 October 2015 – the date Doc Brown took Marty McFly to from 1985 in the film Back to the Future 2.
The predictions made in the 1980s movie about what is now the present day proved mainly wildly over or under ambitious – for example that there would be flying cars and on-street fax machines and that people would be able to travel on hoverboards rather than skateboards. But for his report, Pearson has looked ahead another 30 years.
Perhaps his most startling prediction is the way site teams will carry out projects.
“As exoskeletons develop, primarily paid for via military research, various super-attachments will convert builders into ‘transformers’ that are half man, half machine,” said the report.
“Attachments would allow builders to carry heavy loads, or wear special equipment, for example, to hold a heavy window in place while they secure fastenings.
“The high weight of the equipment and materials needed could be supported by hydraulics or electro-mechanics in the exoskeleton. Augmented reality will allow the builders to see exactly where things should go and what the final state is meant to look like to help place things properly.”
Artificial intelligence (AI) will be used to drive some machinery – with “smart wheelbarrows” and “fetch-and-carry robots” the norm – and also to manage projects.
“The AI foreman will just need access to the building plans to coordinate their activities, working closely with human controllers,” said Pearson.
Site machinery will also have come on a bit by the middle of this century.
“Heavy machines will work with a variety of attachments and some of those may be sophisticated robotic equipment… even things like earth-moving buckets will benefit from high-tech upgrades,” says the report.
“Apart from using advanced materials to make them even stronger, front edges might use shape changing technology to help cut through materials, making cleaner edges and surfaces.
“They may also have geophysical equipment added into them so they can detect if the ground they are about to move contains something important, such as archaeological artefacts or indeed buried wiring or pipework.”
On the transport side, private vehicle ownership will be a thing of the past by 2045, according to the report.
“Self-driving cars will be able to drive very close to each other, sideways as well as front to back, so if size can be standardised, and there is a huge incentive to do so, then there will be more lanes and more in each lane, up to 15 times more ‘pods’ than cars today.”
As with any good vision of the future, tall buildings will become taller.
“A few buildings will be kilometres tall, making good use of new carbon composites,” said the report.
“A few may be so large that their capacity enables them to function as small cities in their own right, with all the usual city functions mixed within the same building.
“Many rooms will not have outside facing windows so augmented reality virtual windows will be common, simple displays added to any wall to give the appearance and functionality of a window, with the added advantage that it can seemingly look out onto anywhere, and show any location at its best.”
The report said a spaceport was likely to exist in London by 2045.
“There is a huge cost advantage from going to space from as high a base as possible, so a spaceport is very likely to be over 10km and even as much as 30km, using carbon-based materials. Later in the century, far taller structures will be possible.”
AI will allow buildings to use sensors and systems to control their environment.
“Residents will take it for granted that they can just talk and the building will hear them and adjust their environment accordingly,” said Pearson.
Meanwhile augmented reality will have the effect that actual spaces will be simplified yet appearances will be improved.
“Architects and building residents will be able to customise the appearance of the building in the AR domain almost independently of the physical reality,” said Pearson.
Still no word about hoverboards though.