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First up was site surveying and foundation work. The ride vehicle transitioned from the guideways to street level via a temporary ramp. None of the roads in the first neighborhood were paved yet, so the vehicle drove onto a sled fitted with all-terrain tires. According to the windshield display, road and other general infrastructure building was part of a separate ride experience. The videos actually made it look like fun too. The surveying process looked like something out of science fiction. Directional and ranging sensors mounted on the vehicle that allowed it to safely drive automatically could also take detailed scans of the undeveloped land. Within minutes, every nuance of a particular lot from trees to ant hills was displayed as slick eye-candy on the windshield. Narration explained that a team of biologists would come in next to ascertain how development could minimally impact any creatures and plants on the lot. There was no such thing as clear-cutting in Apollo; everything of value was protected.

Clearing of underbrush was done mostly by hand so the vehicle moved on to areas that were ready for grading and foundation pouring. For this, the vehicle transformed again. From up above came a large robotic arm that “scooped up” the vehicle from the all-terrain sled. Locks could be heard clicking into place behind everyone’s seats as they were lifted up. Now twenty feet in the air, the vehicle became part of an impressive articulated assembly. Small temporary tracks on the ground guided a tall gantry at the end of which was the robotic arm. The vehicle was mounted on one of the middle sections of the arm. Multiple degrees of freedom in the whole assembly (the narrator just called the entire thing a gantry) meant the vehicle could perform virtually any kind of movement. 

WORK AND PLAY  /  Utilizing technologies from the construction and entertainment industries, the vehicle system that powers the "Home Is Where The Heart Is" attraction is highly flexible and efficient.

Site grading became a “tummy-tickler” as Natalie put it. The arm picked up a what was called a “tamping device.” The next few minutes were spent bouncing gently up and down; each time compressing the soil with the device. Even for a mundane task, the ride’s designers had programmed in some fun. During the foundation process, the vehicle peeked inside a concrete truck--which made Dad a little dizzy. Then the arm traded the tamper for a hose-like apparatus to pour concrete. Mom got to experience the first bit of interactive control of the gantry. Her hand gestures (recorded by sensors inside the cabin) guided the hose. The display made it into a small game: she had to stay as close as possible to a prescribed pattern and complete it all within a time limit otherwise the computer would take over. She didn’t quite make it, but according to the results that were displayed from other people on the ride, she was one of the fastest that day. Unfortunately concrete couldn’t dry nearly as fast. Off to another house.

Gentle swooping motions made the vehicle seem as if it was flying to the next area. Multiple gantries could be seen throughout the neighborhood, each taking their riders through different stages of the building process. The neighborhood was bustling--and in no section more so than its center. That was where many of the construction materials were delivered via the guideways that ran through them. Ben’s gantry stopped briefly to pick up a wall and then continued its speedy journey to homes whose foundations were ready for vertical construction.

Framing was a chance to perform a mechanical ballet. Multiple gantries executed coordinated movements--sometimes coming within a foot of each other. The designers could have made the movements direct and precise, but by embellishing them with broad arcs and rolls, it made what could be done boringly just with robots fun and educational for humans. Sometimes the ride would take on the character of a roller coaster--at least one without inversions. For the larger walls two vehicles could work together. Wall were “plugged in” to slots pre-built into the foundation. Plumbing and electrical systems were ready instantly. To keep the ride’s story flowing smoothly, a gantry moved between multiple houses. A master control system moved hundreds of track switches to ensure every house was built in an efficient but entertaining way.

Growling stomachs meant it was time for a break. One of the most unique aspects of the home-building ride was its flexibility. You could break away, switch to doing something else for a little while, and resume at almost any time. If too many riders stopped at once, the master control system could assign gantries to continue work without people onboard. Construction in Apollo rarely fell behind schedule.

On the way to another site, Mom had the vehicle set a course for lunch. She had seen a neat looking sandwich shop back at the neighborhood center where they picked up the wall earlier. It was one of the first businesses set up in the center--an area that would eventually boast a similar cross-section (albeit on a smaller scale) of activity that the city’s center had. Dad struck up a conversation with a young couple, George and Stephen. They were having a lot of fun building houses, one of which was their own only about two days away from completion. “Did you see the car chase earlier?” George asked randomly. Dad was puzzled, “Can’t say we did. I was starting to get the impression this utopia didn’t have any crime.” “No, it was actually part of the ride. While we were on our way to another house site, we volunteered to join up with the police in pursuit of a stolen vehicle. Our ride vehicle slipped into a sleek police cruiser and raced around some back roads. We must have been doing over a hundred miles per hour for a while there. We helped corner the stolen car and when the cops opened the door, it turned out to be a seven year old kid behind the wheel. He just wanted to go for a spin! It was funny, but my heart’s still racing.” Ben’s eyes were bugging out listening to this story. I so wanna get in a fast car.

No surprises for the moment though. Mom thought now would be a good time to finally get in a quick tour of the energy plant. Everybody hopped back in the vehicle for a brief ride to the outskirts of the city. Every neighborhood was electrically self-sufficient using a mix of solar, wind, and other clean generation methods. Four larger energy plants located throughout the city ensured balanced distribution between the neighborhoods and provided backup power if needed. The southern plant was the largest because it included a sizable ride and exhibit space. Riders there were treated to one of the most awe-inspiring sights in Apollo: a huge room filled with electrical arcs spreading in all directions. Arcs connected with representations of houses, appliances, and cars, making for a compelling abstract statement about the ubiquity of electricity. After the ride, Ben and Natalie had a lot of fun in the “Mini-Power” exhibit. They played in pretend coal plants, hydroelectric dams, and nuclear reactors. For each section, they went through the basic process of obtaining raw resources (Ben got very dirty while “mining” dusty pieces of foam; Natalie got drenched during a few less than successful attempts at redirecting a water chute) and making sure the plants ran smoothly (through the use of lots of buttons and dials). The simplicity of the miniature solar array (you just had to make sure the photovoltaic panels were always directly pointed towards a glowing yellow orb on a pole) drove home the point that simpler was often better. Last on the tour was an elevator ride up a working wind turbine. All of its mechanics were on full display against the backdrop of the city viewed from afar. It was Mom’s bug-eyed moment.


HOME OF THE RETRO-FUTURE  /  This is not the home of Anna and Claire, but rather an example of one of the larger single-family homes in Apollo. Every single-family home is designed to be a net-zero user of energy and resources of the community via the integration of photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, as well as rainwater and greywater recycling systems.  Architectural styles in the city are widely varied. This is a rough study model with which I'm exploring a style I call "Googiecraft" - an attempt to meld 1950's Googie with the principles/motifs of the Arts and Crafts Movement. 

On the way to the neighborhood where Anna and Claire’s house was being built, everyone wondered when one of the ride’s “surprises” was going to pop up. Ben was really hoping for the car chase. But it didn’t happen. They resumed building, starting with installation of some appliances and furniture. The robotic arms were industrial brutes but they could handle delicate objects very gently when necessary. For this building phase, riders were given nearly complete control of the gantries. Natalie and Ben took turns. Sometimes they’d make a sudden jog to the left or right to scare Mom a little. When it came time to put some furniture in the house, the vehicle traveled into a temporary structure containing a few different sofa styles. Anna had elected to allow whoever would build her home to choose a few items on their own. Everybody went for the green sofa. Just as Ben set it down in the living room, a red alert box popped up on the windshield. He thought he did something wrong but the alert turned out to be a call for “amateur firefighters.” There was a blaze in a nearby building and the fire department needed some help to put it out. Ben indicated “yes” on the reply box without asking anybody else. Here’s our surprise!

About a quarter mile from the house was a four-story office building engulfed in flames. The vehicle display made it clear that it was just a practice drill, but it was still an alarming spectacle. The vehicle transferred from the gantry to the end of a fire truck’s ladder. The windshield opened up to allow four water nozzles up into the cabin. Heat from the flames below was definitely noticeable. Firefighters gave instructions over the radio on how to best extinguish the fire. With all the extra help, the flames were under control in about five minutes.

But a new emergency came into play. As the vehicle descended, Dad noticed a few of the building’s residents being put on stretchers. The vehicle followed EMT's as they began treating Janet, an elderly woman that narrowly escaped the fourth floor. It latched on to the side of her ambulance; both sides were cut open to allow two vehicles to look inside. Hanging off the side of a speeding ambulance was quite a thrill. Ben had a hard time keeping focus between the medical drama in front of him and the road race going on to his left.

At the hospital, the everyone followed Janet trough the treatment process. They watched as she underwent a comprehensive body scan that instantly diagnosed her with smoke inhalation, a preexisting heart murmur, and a broken leg. She received the most advanced care possible. Healthcare had become a non-profit industry a few years prior and everyone was reaping the benefits. Tiny nanobots were sent into Janet’s bloodstream to repair her body’s damage at the cellular level. Riders went on a “Fantastic Voyage”-like simulation to watch the nanobots do their work. It was another educational spectacle, but nobody in the family liked hospitals no matter how fancy they were. At the conclusion of Janet’s story, Mom set a course back to the house.

Roofing was almost done by the time they got back but Ben was able to guide the last two trusses into place. Anna and Claire’s house looked like the kind of quaint Victorian cottage you’d find in an old Northwestern city. And while it was assembled using giant robotic tools, all the individual elements were crafted by human hands. Landscaping was the next to last step on the ride. Natalie took over again for that part, digging holes for new trees and laying down sod using the robotic arm she had become such a pro at. Her last duty as “Gantry Pilot Extraordinaire” (as Dad called her) was to disassemble the gantry track around the house piece by piece. With everything clear, their vehicle detached from the arm for the final time and the family joined other riders in the house to help with fit and finish. Mom placed one of the glass vases she made at the workshop on the dining room table. Another rider who had visited the floral workshop earlier in the day used her new skills to arrange a beautiful bouquet in it. Dad helped some of the other guys carry in a large area rug for the living room. He recognized the woven pattern as Cindy’s, the craftsman who helped Natalie use the loom that morning. The last component was one of Harry’s unique lanterns that needed to be hung over the front porch. Dad helped Ben over his shoulders so he could reach high enough.

With a snap of a hook, the house was finished.


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