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What would construction look like if Marty McFly went forward another 30 years?

21 Oct 15 21st October 2015 was the date to which Marty McFly went Back to the Future 30 years ago. With this peg, plant hire group Hewden has commissioned a report on what 2045 might look like.

Buildings will be 30km high with spaceports on top and builders will wear exoskeletons like Iron Man to lift heavy loads and dig by hand.

Hewden’s 2045: Constructing the Future report has been written by futurologist Ian Pearson to coincide with the date Marty McFly and Dr Emmett Brown time-travelled to in the 1980s blockbuster movie, Back to the Future II.

The report takes a look at what the UK might look like in another 30 years, covering areas such as building design, transport, technology and health and safety.

“While we’re not all flying around in cars, there are a number of things, such as the use of drones, video conferencing and some of the physical structures that were portrayed very accurately in the movie,” said Ian Pearson.  “The acceleration of new technology has and will continue to be the biggest driver for change. As will look forward another 30 years we can expect to see a very different but exciting world.”

Carbon nanotubes and graphene may be used extensively in 2045 to strengthen building materials, reinforcing concretes and enabling stronger, lighter and stiffer tension members, fasteners and cables, and generally more intricate and interesting structures. Graphene is so transparent it could even be used to strengthen glass. We will also see carbon foam used as a superlight building material, the report predicts. Graphene foams can be made lighter than air to enable floating structures. With its huge strength, molybdenene may also have a role in some materials.

Mr Pearson said: “The use of super-strong carbon-based materials will enable us to build incredibly tall structures, some even up to 30km high. This will make space travel more convenient and for major transport hubs like London, going into space will be a regular occurrence in 2045.”

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The report also identified that in the future looks may be deceiving. Mr Pearson said: “Augmented reality will play a major role in the aesthetics of a building.  It’s likely that many buildings will actually be very plain, instead using AR to create visually appealing environments for those that visit,” said Pearson.

3D printing already allows rapid construction of basic structures by machine and will enable elaborate detailing. It is likely to progress quickly as new kinds of concrete and other printable materials are developed, the report says. 3D printing can add fine detail onto structures that are erected conventionally, so we may see highly intricate finishes and ornamentation that are changed occasionally according to the brands of companies inhabiting buildings.

The report also predicts that as exoskeletons develop, primarily paid for via military research, various super-attachments will convert builders into ‘transformers’ that are half-man, half-machine. 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, or print heads to finish an area. 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.

While predicting the future is more art than science, Mr Pearson says he does not use crystal balls or Tarot cards. “My main tools are: a strong background in science and engineering, trends analysis, common sense, reasonable business acumen, knowing when to listen to other people, and a whole lot of thinking,” he says. “I usually get it right, but since the future is never totally predictable, I sometimes get it wrong too, about 15% of the time. But I specialise in doing long term stuff, so I have a lot of fun. I hope to be retired before anyone can prove me wrong.”

The full 2045: Constructing the Future report can be downloaded here.

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