Throwback Thursday: November 2014, Cerro de Pasco leads the world - again

Going through the archives of WOMBATT we came across an interesting article written by WOMBATT’s CEO, Jean Verhardt, which talks about the foundation of our company and how a city in Peru has become a part in pioneering fatigue management by using space technology. And to intrigue you with some additional history of the technology and city.

This week, a delegation of six mining managers and mining engineers from the Debswana Diamond Mining Company in Botswana, Africa visited the El Brocal mine in Cerro de Pasco, Peru, looking for a solution to the problem of haul truck driver fatigue in their mines in Botswana, Africa. Debswana has been searching the world for the past two years looking for a solution to driver fatigue, and has found the answer to the problem in Cerro de Pasco, Peru. The solution to driver fatigue trialled and implemented at the El Brocal mine near Cerro de Pasco since 2009 is based on Space technology provided to WOMBATT Peru S.A.C. by the European Space Agency (ESA). 

The town of Cerro de Pasco, capital city of Pasco province, Peru, rates just 10 lines in the Lonely Planet tourist guidebook to Peru. Cusco, another town located on the high Peruvian Altiplano, rates an impressive 65 pages of the book. Yet Cerro de Pasco was a much more important city in the history of the world than any other city of Peru. One of the great attractions of Peru to the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century was gold and silver treasure found in quantities never before seen in the history of the world. While much of the gold was mined in the hills and valleys of Cajamarca, the vast bulk of the silver was mined by the Incas and others before them in and around Cerro de Pasco in Peru and Potosi in Bolivia, as well as the famous Aztec mines at Zacatecas in Mexico. The scale of the New World bullion which the Spanish sent across the Atlantic to Europe was so vast that it helped cause the one hundred years inflation of the 16th and 17th centuries, giving rise to vast fortunes throughout Hapsburg Europe, especially in the Netherlands, the financial centre of the Spanish Habsburg Empire. With the close connections at that time between Antwerp, Amsterdam and London, some of this new wealth found its way into England, creating the conditions and providing the capital that led eventually to the Industrial Revolution. 

So, as every high school student of British and European history knows so well, the historic city of Cerro de Pasco helped provide the seed capital for the Industrial Revolution, leading directly to the modern world with all its wonders which we see all around us today. And that is not the only connection that the town has with the Industrial Revolution. In 1816 Richard Trevithick, the famous British inventor of the steam locomotive and of the railway, arrived in Cerro de Pasco to maintain the steam boilers he had sold to the mine owners to pump water from the mines. He stayed for many years. 

Cerro de Pasco not only helped finance the creation of the modern world we enjoy today; the town also had as its resident for a time one of the great inventors who created it. 

I first saw Cerro de Pasco in 2009, from a hill on the road into town from Colquijirca. My ESA supported company, WOMBATT, had been given permission by the management of the El Brocal mine to trial a new method of predicting and preventing the fatigue of haul truck drivers, a cutting edge technology developed for use in the Space industry. As a student on the far side of the Pacific I had formed an image of Cerro de Pasco as a shining city of silver, high up in the distant Andes Mountains. But the poverty-stricken town that lay before me that day, under a cold grey sky matched by the grey concrete buildings, the grey, broken streets only partially concealed by a light dusting of snow, was a bitter disappointment. 

My trip to Cerro de Pasco had started many years earlier, in the far off city of Adelaide, in South Australia. In September, 1977, the interplanetary spaceship Voyager 1 blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, took a spin around the moon to gain speed, and set off on a 4 year mission to map the planet Jupiter and all her moons. One month later, Voyager 2 was launched on the same track and set off after Voyager 1. 

Years passed by. 

During the long voyage, the quality of the radio signals received on earth from the two spacecraft began to deteriorate due to interference from asteroids in the vast asteroid belt which lies between Mars and Jupiter. Signals from the spacecraft were being received by the antennas of the Deep Space Network (DSN), based in Australia, Spain and California and sent directly to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Member universities of the DSN consortium then began a desperate quest to find a solution to the degrading quality of signals being transmitted by the Voyager spaceships, so that the mission would be a success when the spacecraft finally reached Jupiter. During this research process they discovered a ground breaking new digital signal processing technique known as Turbo Coding, which could be used to pick up fading radio signals, spin them through a mathematical turbo algorithm, and produce a crisp clear signal, of as high a quality as it was the day it left the spaceship. This technology is today an important part of the radio receiver technology used by mobile smart phones in pockets and purses all over the world. 

The Voyager mission to Jupiter was spectacularly successful, and as the spaceships were still in great condition the mission was extended beyond Jupiter to map the rest of the outer planets. This second mission was also successful and the spaceships were then given a third and final mission by the JPL; to map the Heliopause, the outer limits of the solar system, where the solar wind fades and dies and is replaced by Interstellar Space. 

On 2013 Voyager 1 passed right through the Heliopause and is today in Interstellar space, 24 billion kilometres from Earth…the first human object ever to leave the solar system. Voyager 2 is not far behind. If we were on one of the spaceships today, the sun would look no bigger than a bright star, just one of 200 billion other stars in our Milky Way galaxy. The radio message takes 22 hours to reach Earth, and is transmitted by a 1970’s era radio transmitter 7500 times less powerful that an average modern smart phone, which uses technology developed specifically by and for the Voyager mission. 

The University of South Australia was a member of the Deep Space Network consortium that solved the turbo coding problem, and some of the scientists involved became my partners in the university spinoff company DSpace Pty Ltd, which based its business on the turbo coding algorithm. After a time we sold the company to an American defence contractor, and my technology development company EstrellaSat was granted a licence to develop the technology for commercial purposes. EstrellaSat gained admission into the European Space Agency Business Incubation Initiative to develop the technology for mining, and the El Brocal mine near Cerro de Pasco was the site of the field development of the new technology. 

In the years since, the technology has matured, and the El Brocal mine is now recognised worldwide as a world leader in the field of haul truck driver fatigue elimination. When the Debswana driver fatigue engineers found the El Brocal mine after years of searching the world for a solution to the driver fatigue problem, they decided to come to Cerro de Pasco themselves and take a look. 

So once again, Cerro de Pasco is a city at the global forefront of high technology, leading to a better world for all mankind. 


Jean S Verhardt, Lima, November, 201Jean S Verhardt, Lima, November, 2014


Copyright 2023 © All Right Reserved