The Australian Mining Review - - FRONT PAGE - AMY BLOM

AUG­MENTED and vir­tual re­al­ity has be­come more wide­spread within the min­ing sec­tor and ac­cord­ing to re­searchers, ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ments could be on the hori­zon.

Vir­tual re­al­ity has al­ready been used by nu­mer­ous uni­ver­si­ties and or­gan­i­sa­tions in Aus­tralia as an ed­u­ca­tional tool for en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents and fu­ture mine work­ers.

In re­cent years, the tech­nol­ogy has also been used as a safety train­ing tool for min­ers and res­cue brigades in Aus­tralia.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, vir­tual re­al­ity is emerg­ing as a way to in­te­grate mine plan­ning data for use in the de­sign and plan­ning, re­source man­age­ment, and com­mu­nity and in­vestor re­la­tions.

Univer­sity of New South Wales School of Min­er­als and En­ergy Re­sources En­gi­neer­ing Pro­fes­sor Serkan Say­dam be­lieved the next step for vir­tual re­al­ity in min­ing was the in­te­gra­tion of data through de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

It is an idea he has al­ready ex­am­ined, hav­ing in­no­vated a vir­tual re­al­ity pro­gram de­signed to in­te­grate data for use in the re­port­ing and de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

Known as ViMINE2, it was de­vel­oped from the ear­lier ViMINE, which had been cre­ated as an ed­u­ca­tional tool for the UNSW School of Mines en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents.

“There’s ob­vi­ously ben­e­fits for train­ing stu­dents and the work­force, but my ini­tial idea was about us­ing it for de­ci­sion-mak­ing in fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies,” Pro­fes­sor Say­dam said.

“Mine plan­ning en­gi­neers and ge­ol­o­gists use mine plan­ning in­for­ma­tion and they use dif­fer­ent soft­ware pack­ages, so I was dream­ing of in­te­grat­ing them.

“So it would be about us­ing this fa­cil­ity to ba­si­cally re­think dif­fer­ent soft­ware out­puts, ac­cept­ing it as an in­put and gen­er­at­ing 3D an­i­ma­tions of the run­ning mine, but you can also in­clude ac­tual data and change the data; you need to be able to do all the dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios.”

Pro­fes­sor Say­dam said this could prove more use­ful than tra­di­tion­ally writ­ten re­ports and stud­ies as a way of im­part­ing in­for­ma­tion to and im­press­ing in­vestors and se­nior man­age­ment teams, al­low­ing them to make de­ci­sions more easily.

De­spite its po­ten­tial, Pro­fes­sor Say­dam said min­ing com­pa­nies had gen­er­ally thought it had been a good idea, but not com­pul­sory.

He said part of the re­luc­tance to take up tech­nolo­gies such as ViMINE could be at­trib­uted to the at­ti­tude that vir­tual re­al­ity was still too new and was yet to be user-friendly enough.

“The fa­cil­i­ties are also not quite there, it still re­quires some tech­no­log­i­cal ex­per­tise to run th­ese and se­nior man­age­ment may not like to use this, they still pre­fer to read from a re­port,” Pro­fes­sor Say­dam said.

“Cur­rently we can use vir­tual re­al­ity easily with gog­gles, but imag­ine a se­nior man­age­ment team wear­ing gog­gles on their faces while try­ing to make a de­ci­sion, it’s not go­ing to hap­pen.

“I think the next level will be us­ing holo­grams and re­ally be­ing able to show it to se­nior man­age­ment teams from a small ta­ble.

“Peo­ple watch movies like Star Wars with holo­grams ap­pear­ing and they think ‘what a movie’ but this tech­nol­ogy ac­tu­ally al­ready ex­ists.”

De­spite the ini­tial re­luc­tance, Pro­fes­sor Say­dam be­lieved it was sim­ply a mat­ter of time be­fore at­ti­tudes and tech­nol­ogy matched up with the needs of the min­ing in­dus­try and vir­tual tech­nol­ogy would be more com­pre­hen­sively utilised within the sec­tor.

Ground-break­ing Ed­u­ca­tion

While ViMINE2 has not been taken up com­mer­cially, the orig­i­nal ViMINE has proven a big suc­cess, with 86 uni­ver­si­ties and or­gan­i­sa­tions cur­rently util­is­ing the sys­tem.

ViMINE al­lows stu­dents to ex­pe­ri­ence var­i­ous as­pects of a min­ing op­er­a­tion through­out the whole life of a sim­u­lated mine from ini­tial ex­plo­ration to fi­nal site re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

UNSW was also home to a vir­tual re­al­ity sim­u­la­tor con­sist­ing of floor to ceil­ing screens cast­ing 360-de­gree 3D im­ages, al­low­ing stu­dents to ex­pe­ri­ence hands on learn­ing

with­out ever hav­ing to leave cam­pus.

The Ad­vanced Visu­al­i­sa­tion and In­ter­ac­tion En­vi­ron­ment (AVIE) gave stu­dents the op­por­tu­nity to walk through 360 de­gree panora­mas of the Ranger ura­nium mine in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory to un­der­take fea­si­bil­ity test­ing.

Stu­dents were also able to take part in 3D ter­rain ex­plo­rations, work through out­burst man­age­ment ex­pe­ri­ence emer­gency and evac­u­a­tion sce­nar­ios.

Pro­fes­sor Say­dam said his team was now work­ing with the univer­sity’s psy­chol­ogy depart­ment to fully un­der­stand the learn­ing ca­pac­ity in­volved with vir­tual re­al­ity tech­nol­ogy and how it could im­prove.

“The other ques­tion is how ef­fec­tive is vir­tual re­al­ity in learn­ing and teach­ing,” Pro­fes­sor Say­dam said.

“When we use the vir­tual re­al­ity tech­nol­ogy in our teach­ing, stu­dents are happy, but we’re never com­par­ing the two be­cause we run the same mod­ules with ev­ery stu­dent.

“The only out­comes we get is from stu­dents who use the vir­tual re­al­ity, so stud­ies should also in­clude stu­dents learn­ing with and with­out vir­tual re­al­ity.”

Sup­port­ing Men­tal Health

Ad­vance­ments in vir­tual re­al­ity tech­nolo­gies were not lim­ited to mine plan­ning and busi­ness de­ci­sions.

As­so­ciate Re­search Fel­low at the Univer­sity of Wol­lon­gong’s SMART In­fra­struc­ture Fa­cil­ity Dr Shiva Pe­dram be­lieved vir­tual re­al­ity could soon be used to pro­vide men­tal health sup­port to min­ers in re­mote lo­ca­tions.

She was work­ing with Mines Res­cue and Coal Mines In­sur­ance to study the ef­fec­tive­ness of off-the-shelf tech­nolo­gies, such as vir­tual re­al­ity head­sets, to de­liver vir­tual ther­a­peu­tic coun­selling ses­sions.

Ac­cord­ing to the Black Dog In­sti­tute up to one in five Aus­tralians have ex­pe­ri­enced symp­toms of a men­tal dis­or­der in any given year, with mine work­ers be­ing no ex­cep­tion.

Dr Pe­dram said for th­ese work­ers, the re­mote lo­ca­tion of­ten served as an im­ped­i­ment to re­ceiv­ing nec­es­sary treat­ment.

“Through the use of new tech­nolo­gies such as vir­tual re­al­ity, there may be an op­por­tu­nity to el­e­vate the qual­ity of sup­port de­liv­ered to in­jured work­ers in re­mote lo­ca­tions,” Dr Pe­dram said.

“How­ever, study needs to be done to in­ves­ti­gate the use­ful­ness of such ther­a­peu­tic so­lu­tions.

“Adapt­ing vir­tual re­al­ity as a ther­a­peu­tic so­lu­tion re­quires a clear un­der­stand­ing of how pa­tients in­ter­act with the VR en­vi­ron­ment, which can guide the nu­mer­ous de­ci­sions re­gard­ing the struc­ture and in­ter­face of the tech­nol­ogy.”

En­sur­ing Safety

Dr Pe­dram was no stranger to vir­tual re­al­ity in min­ing, hav­ing worked on eval­u­at­ing the tech­nol­ogy as a safety train­ing tool for min­ers as part of her PhD.

The project specif­i­cally fo­cussed on train­ing res­cue brigades for ex­treme or cat­a­strophic sit­u­a­tions.

Much of it was pred­i­cated on the idea that while min­ers have long had com­pre­hen­sive class­room-based train­ing to learn about the haz­ards they would en­counter on site, it could never be the same as be­ing con­fronted with th­ese chal­lenges while un­der­ground.

To over­come this, in­dus­try safety train­ing provider Coal Services de­vel­oped a cinema-like vir­tual re­al­ity room with a 360-de­gree screen that was 10 me­tres in di­am­e­ter and four me­tres high.

Up to eight min­ers in full pro­tec­tive gear could en­ter the room and ex­pe­ri­ence sim­u­lated ex­plo­sions, gas leaks and rou­tine safety in­spec­tions with the help of 12 cam­eras pro­ject­ing 3D im­ages with full sur­round sound.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Pe­dram, vir­tual re­al­ity used in this way could be an ef­fec­tive way of pre­par­ing min­ers and res­cue brigades.

“The Aus­tralian min­ing in­dus­try has steadily achieved remarkable per­for­mance and safety re­sults through con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment of its train­ing stan­dards,” Dr Pe­dram said.

“Vir­tual re­al­ity-based train­ing is the most re­cent tech­nol­ogy used to en­hance min­ers’ com­pe­ten­cies in a safe and con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment that al­lows for repli­ca­ble test­ing ex­treme event sce­nar­ios.”

Dr Pe­dram said there were a num­ber of ways vir­tual re­al­ity was pre­par­ing mine work­ers for day to day op­er­a­tions.

“A range of equip­ment sim­u­la­tors in­clud­ing doz­ers, jack­leg drill, dragline, haul truck, shovel, con­tin­u­ous miner, long­wall and roof bolter are avail­able to train new min­ers or re­fresh the knowl­edge of ex­ist­ing min­ers,” Dr Pe­dram said.

Ac­cord­ing to a Lla­maZOO, a Cana­dian com­pany that cre­ates vir­tual re­al­ity prod­ucts for min­ing com­pa­nies, the safety ben­e­fits of us­ing vir­tual re­al­ity in min­ing could ex­tend well beyond train­ing.

The com­pany be­lieved it was not far off to think that op­er­a­tors could con­trol ma­chin­ery re­motely us­ing the tech­nol­ogy to vir­tu­ally be sit­ting in the cab of a shovel or haul truck.

Po­ten­tial fu­ture uses could also al­low op­er­a­tors to make bet­ter use of their down­time by em­ploy­ing vir­tual re­al­ity to es­cape to re­lax­ing scenes, or even us­ing it to en­gage at a dis­tance with their fam­i­lies.

Aug­mented Re­al­ity

Beyond the con­fines of vir­tual sim­u­la­tion suites or large head gear, has been the rapid ad­vance­ments of aug­mented re­al­ity.

Un­like vir­tual re­al­ity, which was de­signed to be en­tirely sim­u­lated, aug­mented re­al­ity was in­tended to over­lay sim­u­lated graph­ics onto a real-world view.

This would pro­vide less im­mer­sion than vir­tual re­al­ity, but more free­dom for the user with no need for vir­tual sim­u­la­tor rooms or head­gear.

Rather, it is of­ten achieved through the use of smart phones, smart glasses and other light­weight prod­ucts.

The de­vel­op­ment of this tech­nol­ogy has al­ready been utilised to track heavy min­ing equip­ment, trucks and light ve­hi­cles across Aus­tralia’s min­ing sec­tor, with min­ing con­trac­tor Downer re­port­edly tak­ing up the tech­nol­ogy for its fleet in June.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­search pa­per re­leased by South African aca­demics, aug­mented re­al­ity had the po­ten­tial to greatly ben­e­fit the min­ing process if the de­sign of an aug­mented re­al­ity ap­pli­ca­tion was done ef­fec­tively.

The re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria and the Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy found ef­fec­tive uses re­gard­ing drilling ap­pli­ca­tions, nav­i­ga­tional aid and op­er­a­tor as­sis­tance, main­te­nance and re­pair, and pro­vi­sion of real-time in­for­ma­tion.

“Through the use of new tech­nolo­gies such as vir­tual re­al­ity, there may be an op­por­tu­nity to el­e­vate the qual­ity of sup­port de­liv­ered to in­jured work­ers in re­mote lo­ca­tions.”


Im­age: Univer­sity of New South Wales. ViMINE al­lows stu­dents to fol­low through the full life of a mine.

Dr Shiva Pe­dram worked with Coal Services to as­sess the ef­fec­tive­ness of its vir­tual re­al­ity train­ing for min­ers and res­cue brigades.

Im­age: Univer­sity of New South Wales.

86 uni­ver­si­ties and or­gan­i­sa­tions are us­ing ViMINE world­wide.

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