In the intense, fifty-degree Celsius temperature, dust devils swirled here and there as the heat radiated off of them. It presented almost a misty, surrealistic view of the mammoth sandbox. Giant earthmovers lumbered along over the uneven terrain, feeding the heated, chalky dust into the air even more. The enormous buckets of the front-end loaders scrambled to scoop up the minerals churned out by the toothy, grinding digging machine, known to all as the Badger.
It was business as usual at the open mining pit in Australia’s interior called Kookaburra. The ore was greedily hoisted up by the front-end loaders and dumped into the mammoth dump trucks. When filled, these would be driven to the special railroad loading area for transport to the coast for the next step in processing and onto their final destinations.
This was a rich, arid area in South Australia where typically the company mined for bauxite and iron ore, but it wasn’t uncommon to hit a good vein of nickel. The company typically hated finding gold or silver because that brought out all the treasure hunters, who then gummed up the standard operations. Business-wise though, they reluctantly accepted the good fortune when it occurred. There was a sister mining pit named Romney a hundred kilometers away that was churning out a good quantity of coal with a nice companion quantity of natural gas. That operation was still trying to bring all of the liquefying technology online for a more cost effective transport. The Consortium, as it was called, was just as big as some of the earthmoving vehicles they deployed to process ever more minerals at an ever decreasing cost. The Consortium consisted of a financial group, an engineering group, logistics, and a software group. The Consortium was quite proud of the fact that at least forty percent of the world's mines operated with their in-house designed, built, and coded software products.
From the air, the Kookaburra mine was always a hive of activity whether it was day or night. The logical applied use of pilotless drones had been the crowning achievement for the Kookaburra mine. Now the site could be watched from the advantage of height as well as multiple angles, either during regular light or with infrared light at night. Drones could fly for days without refueling and helped boost the communications signals from the ground up to the satellite then back down to Perth on the coast. As expected, the audible communications were somewhat skimpy, since all the ground equipment was wireless technology that used sensors and was software driven.
No humans existed at the site. All operations were performed remotely from the command center in Perth. Without having to build human friendly accommodations at the site, the company was able to save approximately a million Australian dollars per person, per year with this forward thinking mining operation. Everything was automated and monitored by sensors in and on the equipment. All non-automation was driven by the operations personnel in an extensive, climate-controlled data bunker in Perth.
George Jones grinned as he handed a fresh cup of his favorite organic Kona coffee to the drone operator and reminded, “You said you would let me drive the drone once it was airborne and operationally over the target area. You weren’t shining me on, were you?”
The drone operator was a large, burly fellow known only as Mohawk because of his heavily moussed orange Mohawk hairdo. He looked up from the console and offered, “Actually, mate, I do need you to drive for a while since the lease is up on all that rented coffee you’ve been bringing me. So here, you drive for a while and try not to turn the drone into a burrowing device like the Badger.”
George now reveled as he handled the high-tech drone control with some short instruction from Mohawk. As Mohawk began to exit, George mischievously commented, “Now I did mention that I am somewhat nearsighted, so can you help guide my hands to the control stick, if it jumps out of my hands? And, um, what do all these little numbers mean on the screen anyway? Are these important or can I just turn them off? Oh yeah, how do I restart the game if it looks like all my adversaries are going to shoot or destroy me?”
Mohawk clucked his tongue and grumbled, “Mate, if you’re going to be a DWEEB, you could be acting like one, or bugger-off.”
George’s smile deteriorated into a puzzled look as he asked, “DWEEBs?”
Now it was Mohawk’s turn to smile mischievously as he clarified, “That’s right, mate, DWEEBs. Directional Wheel Entities for Enterprising Blokes, or DWEEBs. If you’re flying a drone you’re a DWEEB.”
Mohawk left for the toilet, laughing out loud, while George graciously accepted the hazing from the encounter and enjoyed the experience. His formative years of playing electronic games essentially qualified him to at least steer the drone without hitting Badger.
George intently focused his attention on the monitor that was giving him real-time visual feeds from the site. He liked the optics from the drone, and the controls were every bit as responsive as he had imagined. The drone could pull back on its field of view or telescope in on one of the trucks to see the little hula girl fastened to the dashboard. It was at this moment that he noticed something odd going on in the pit. He quickly scanned the other monitors in the operations center to see if anything was showing an unusual set of circumstances. He rubbed his eyes to correct his vision, but when he returned his attention to the drone’s optics it still showed the same thing.
Mohawk wasn’t back yet, and he was not quite sure what to think of the drama unfolding in front of his eyes. He looked around and quickly noticed the operations duty manager wandering through the area. McLaren was casually checking the duty rosters and the sensor monitoring systems which made the situation even more incongruous. Finally, unable to reconcile the activity he was viewing and the business as usual sensor output, George called McLaren over.
McLaren stated, “Hey, George, what’s up? Mohawk strand you at his post like every other visitor to this facility? Did he use the old the lease is up on the rented coffee routine again?”
Now somewhat concerned, George asked, “Can you double check my visuals here? I’m seeing something that simply is NOT being reflected in the mountains of equipment sensor output here in the data center. I don’t want to be an alarmist here, but can you verify what I’m seeing on my monitor?”
McLaren smiled in a paternal way and offered, “Of course, Laddie! You stare into these things long enough and you begin to hallucinate. Let’s see what’s going.”
The smile quickly faded from McLaren’s face, but his calm disposition wouldn’t allow him to panic. After a few seconds he asked, “How long has this been going on, Laddie?”
George, now emboldened with McLaren’s concern, reported, “About four minutes. I saw one of the front-end loaders simply upend one of the dump trucks and move it into a corner of the pit. It almost reminded me of children taking their toys out of the general playing area and putting them away to be safe and then returning for more toys.
“So I am not hallucinating? You’re seeing this too?”
McLaren was now ashen and nodded his head as he confirmed, “You’re not hallucinating. Four minutes, hmmm. I’m seeing our million dollar pieces of equipment turn on each other as in a school yard brawl, yet none of the sensors in this operations center are barking at us saying that something is wrong. The obvious question is, what’s wrong with this picture?”
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