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Editor's Desk, Soap Box


Back to the Future – it’s closer than you think

UAVs, videoconferencing, advanced eyeglasses, biofuels, urban planning ... As Damian Christie writes, the Back to the Future film trilogy at least got those right in its portrayal of the future ...

As you no doubt noticed in the popular media, fans of the Back to the Future (BTTF) trilogy recently celebrated the so-called arrival of the future – 21 October, 2015 (or BTTF Day), the date of the “future age” that Michael J Fox’s Marty McFly visited in the second film.

It is a sign of how much of a cult following the films have that politicians through to miners celebrated BTTF Day. New South Wales Premier Mike Baird tweeted a cheesy film clip of himself arriving for work in a DeLorean DMC-12. In the tweet he quipped: “Great Scott! Turns out we still need roads ...”

The 2015 Precious Metals Investment Symposium also used BTTF to promote itself. Not only did its conference in Sydney run with the theme “Back to the Asset of the Future”, the conference dinner had a BTTF theme, complete with replica of the famous DeLorean time machine and the launch of the Perth Mint’s BTTF 30th anniversary gold coin collection.

The future age represented in the second film suggested there would be a massive leap in technology, eg flying cars, hydrators, holographic films, shoes with power laces, and weather control, etc. Marty was even able to zip about on a hoverboard but most disappointingly for fans (including IQA Past President David Cilento, who telegraphed his love of the hoverboard in Quarry last Christmas!), in the real 2015 we still haven’t manufactured gravity-defying skateboards.

Of course, while there are many elements of the film’s portrayal of 2015 that were incorrect, the film was still remarkably prescient. There have been incremental technological advances. Drones, video conferencing and eyeglasses as wearable tech are very much in vogue today. UAVs are seen walking the dog and taking photos for USA Today in Marty McFly’s 2015 but in our 2015 they can do so much more – including aerial photography and photogrammetry in quarries and mines.

Similarly, video conferencing is not just available in the office but on mobile phones. Quarry has previously reported on eyeglasses that can monitor driver fatigue, both in on-road and off-road trucks.

In more advanced eyeglasses, such as Google Glass, data can be fed to a viewscreen. It is therefore entirely possible that one day quarry professionals will be able to measure the height and depth of a stockpile by just looking at it! They can certainly do it now with mobile phone apps.

In the second film, the DeLorean’s time travel circuits were powered by the conversion of household waste to renewable energy – the ultimate in recycling and conservation. Although earthmoving vehicles are today still reliant on fossil fuels, suppliers have explored other options to reduce their carbon footprints. There are diesel-electric hybrid excavators and wheel loaders on the market. The Volvo Group has also investigated several renewable fuels for its vehicles, including developing a methane-powered earthmoving prototype for the WWF Climate Savers program. It is perhaps not inconceivable that in two or three decades from now, all earthmoving equipment will run on biofuels – a win-win for the environment and the quarrying industry.

That said, it is probably a blessing that BTTF incorrectly predicted that cars would fly. The quarry industry of Marty McFly’s 2015 would surely have contracted if it was not producing aggregates for road and freeway infrastructure. Even BTTF writer and producer Bob Gale is grateful that he got it wrong. “People have enough trouble driving in two dimensions,” he told The New York Times. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to give them the Z axis.”

US journalist Lincoln Steffens once famously remarked, “I have seen the future and it works.” While BTTF’s vision of the future may have been 90 per cent off, it nevertheless raised some innovative ideas that have indeed been adopted by industry – and do work. And there are still more innovative ideas to come – which will benefit the quarrying industry. As for hoverboards ... well, we can keep on dreaming!

Best wishes for the season!



Damian Christie
Editor • Quarry Magazine

Damian Christie is the editor and a chief writer of Quarry magazine. To contact Damian, please click here.

Thursday, 18 October, 2018 05:31am
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