A groundbreaking virtual reality facility in the School of Mining Engineering is not just giving today’s engineers the ability to see things in mines they would never usually get the chance to experience, but it is improving safety. “There are a lot of things underground that you really can’t see,” says Dr Rudrajit Mitra. “On top of the roof for example. Or things that no one has lived to see because it causes a fatality. For example, we can show what happens when an outburst occurs along with the indicators that lead to an outburst. In a real mine the students wouldn’t be able to see these events.”
The Virtual Reality Laboratory consists of a 360-degree screen with 12 projectors on top. Users stand in the space wearing 3D glasses.
Rudra says the existing modules that run in the facility are being improved, and new modules are being developed. In the sustainability module, one of the assignments asks students to place all parts of a mine in a landscape, while taking into account other “interest factors” in the area, such as tourism. “It gives the students a way of thinking outside the box about where to put these infrastructures,” Rudra says. “What are the cost implications of that – that is one of the new additions we have planned to put into the module.”
In one of the modules being planned, the laboratory will be able to show how coal was formed, taking people through the millennia-long process above ground and under ground.
Rudra says the virtual reality laboratory is widely respected for its practical applications, because training, research and simulation can be undertaken in a safe and forgiving environment. The virtual environments replicate real mine sites and risk-taking behaviour can be identified without putting personnel at risk. “Industry has been concerned that several new rules and regulations have been implemented to improve safety and work procedures resulting in a significant improvement in safety in recent decades, but accidents and injuries continue to occur – sometimes with serious consequences. Interactive computer-based visualisation of mine environments has the potential to improve safety through improved understanding of mine environment hazards, procedures and processes relating to day-to-day operations.”
Mining companies are showing interest. “One leading mining company plans to develop a similar set-up at their own site,” Rudra says.
Part of the innovative computer research facilities that have been developed at the School of Mining Engineering includes an interactive learning system (ViMine) that provides an authentic experience working with industry software, while developing an understanding of the broader and longerterm impact of technical decisions.