New Ground II

Countryside 2030

Illustration Evgenia Barinova

Come work at the biggest & most advanced factory on Earth! Located by a river near the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains with wild horses roaming free.” @ElonMusk

Zoey pulled out her work device and began to read up on the day’s task, aware that it was at least another two hours until the AV meandered beyond of the outer-outer suburbs of San Jose. Due to an ongoing shortfall in investment in public transport infrastructure networks in the States, most on-ground traveling was now done in AVs. The simplicity and affordability of these AV journeys in addition to the appeal of the calm suburbs to a stressed out millennial generation, now in middle age, had fuelled urban sprawl and created a ‘work-commuting’ culture, with some employees regularly traveling more than five hours a day whilst working remotely onboard.

AV shared passenger taxi from 2018. Image ©Mercedes-Benz

The countryside is part of urban systems in ways that it hasn’t been before. It’s not a site of nature, its where the interfaces of the most complex forms of cultural globalization are taking place.” Benjamin Bratton

The move was a great success for the expansion of self-learning interfaces and the tech industry. Driven by their proven industrial applications and increased yields for automated farms, funding was poured into developing machine learning interfaces with applications which stretched far beyond the agriculture industry. Automated machines farming the ground in many advanced rural districts, such as those surrounding San Jose, can now handle workdays of up to 19 hours and manage their own self-charging schedules.

In 2018 unmanned tractors already farming some rural regions. Image ©Bonirob

The most pronounced hardware shift in the agriculture industry since 2018 has been the use of drones — multi-purpose drones now map every square inch of countryside terrain, updating models in real-time.

Rural drones were feeding back into the data network and changing the nature of agriculture as long ago as 2018. Image ©Robohub

While she watched a cluster of scanning drones swoop across the sky, Zoey barely noticed the AV driving, the journey was so smooth.

Zoey swiped right, annoyed that the AV, sponsored by a well-known milk company, was trying to download the company app to her device. “Can you open the back window?” she asked it’s OS, and the computer replied by winding it down very slightly. “Is that all ya got?”, she joked, fully aware these corporate computers would probably never grasp irony. Outside, she noticed the fields abruptly ending as she approached a new land-use zone — it must be the edge of the industrial park.

Wild horses traverse the land beside the TRIC (Tahoe-Reno Industrial Park). Image ©Dave Forall

While she watched a cluster of scanning drones swoop across the sky, Zoey barely noticed the AV driving, the journey was so smooth.

Tahoe-Reno was first developed back in 2012 following a land auction, with some plots going for as little as $1 per square foot. That price would be laughable today — with the largest names in tech there and the military-level security boost they brought with them, a potential buyer would be looking at a price well over $700 per square foot. Smaller companies could not access a plot at Tahoe-Reno as they did not possess the ad revenue to make the leap. In the day-to-day operations, in what might at first appear as a remote and unlikely location, distance from the city was low down on Tahoe Reno’s priorities as very few consumers ever needed to come out to the park itself. Similar industrial parks could be found in any pro-digital society around the world, and were now considered stateless under international law for tax purposes.

Diagram by Metahaven for The Stack. ©Benjamin Bratton

We are taking care to make sure that it looks good, that it fits in with the surroundings. It’s a factory, but we care about aesthetics.” Elon Musk

Tesla Gigafactory. Image ©Tesla

She was wearing her hard hat, respirator, gloves, eye protection, and steel toe boots to protect herself against the heated and noisy environment. In some ways she didn’t feel that different from her robotic colleagues — the AGVs.

’Dark factory’ in Japan being unsupervised for up to 30 days at a time. Image ©FANUC

This was reflected in how they freely — almost dancing — navigated the factory via a digital map, liberated from the floor magnets and navigational beacons the AGVs were dependent on.

Autonomous Indoor Vehicle (AIV) at the Tesla Gigafactory 1. Image ©Adept

In this sense, the countryside had continued to ‘power the city’: but in electrical energy over food.

After lunch, eaten quickly on the roof, Zoey headed back into the factory to perform her afternoon production line checks. Realising she was not going to meet her daily point goals, she made her way to the atrium to take an additional Telemeeting with some of her colleagues on another project. Now time to fill in the digital paperwork, she thought. Completely absorbed in checkboxes, Zoey was brought back to reality by a notification that buzzed through her body, causing physical panic. For a moment she felt very alone in an automated universe. The company had signaled it was time to leave the industrial park as her passenger drone was already on its way.

Due to the diversity of rural America, some parts of it will grow and others will diminish. And though rural America is important to the environmental, economic and social future of the country, much of the change that goes on in the vast regions of the country that are rural, will be largely invisible to those who reside in and focus on urban America.” Kenneth Johnson

Single passenger drone. Image ©Ehang

We thought that it would be interesting to make a coffee table book on Bechtel” Benjamin Bratton

As the passenger drone whizzed back into the urban region, Zoey noticed the increasing density of clustering data centers on the urban fringe, a layout noticeably different to how they peppered the industrial park. She also caught sight of the first trickle of AVs migrating towards the countryside, where they would rest and charge up during the night before returning to the city in the morning. As her drone descended back towards the city, Zoey’s devices beeped with personal messages about her date with Liam that evening.

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Hannah Wood

Architect and researcher based in Tanzania, East Africa. Follow for discussions on how global developments are shaping the built environment👇