Immersive VR (and presence) trains miners for the real world

[Here’s another application of presence for training people for a dangerous profession in a safe, virtual environment. The original version of this University of Utah story includes two more images and a 57 second video (also available on YouTube). For more information see a 2021 story in FedTech Magazine and a 2020 story in Safety+Health Magazine. –Matthew]

[Image: Screenshot of a module to learn safety techniques in an underground mine. Credit: HOTO Minverso/University of Utah]

Immersive VR trains miners for the real world

By David Pace, College of Science, University of Utah
June 6, 2024

It’s the end of a shift in an underground mine, and you’re midway through a safety checklist. Suddenly, smoke fills the cavern and emergency lights flash. Your co-workers yell and chaos ensues. What do you do?

Before you panic, remember that this is a practice scenario in an innovative simulation that prepares for the worst in a virtual world.

The Center for Mine Safety and Health at the Department of Mining Engineering at the University of Utah, in collaboration with the Chile-based company Minverso, has developed the initial phase of a first-ever metaverse platform that includes a mining training program using virtual reality (VR). This collaborative initiative blends cutting-edge technology with academic expertise for the benefits of both students and the mining industry.

“This mining metaverse is not just technological innovation,” said mining department chair Charles Kocsis. “It is, most importantly, a product of shared experience and dedication to providing students and the mining industry a holistic and immersive learning experience.”

Qualified faculty and research assistants from the U and Minverso, a VR training company, created a team to build, test and validate the innovative health and safety program to be coupled with an evacuation training system for mine workers. The initial phase of the system was made available to the public in early February of 2024. It provides real-time guidance to underground mine workers in case of emergency. The goals are to save lives while establishing a far-reaching culture of health and safety in mines around the world.

At the department’s open house last year, students and visitors donned the ocular headsets to experience VR first-hand by entering two portals: a classroom modeled after the Newmont classroom in the Browning building, and another leading to a mine in which they traverse and handle the controls of underground equipment.

“VR technology promises not only to serve future mining companies that can customize the experience to their own sites but will also serve as a recruitment tool for mining engineering programs,” said Minverso commercial director Dallin Wood. “With the launch of the technology people are now experimenting what it’s like to be a miner. Hopefully, we can bring in students excited to learn about mining. For example, a recent feature includes operating a drilling rig from start to finish, including initiating the development blast.”

For the next phase, the research team will include experts in psychology, education, and health sciences from the U.

Safety first

Improving safety records in mines—for current operators and future mining engineers—is always foremost in the industry’s mind.

“The initial phase of this metaverse platform includes an immersive mine rescue simulation scenario in which underground miners work together to neutralize a fire that started in the engine compartment of a load-haul-dump machine,” explained Kocsis. “This real-world scenario demands critical thinking and swift collaboration between mine workers to perform tasks in the right sequence from de-energizing the mining equipment, extinguishing the fire, followed by ramping up the auxiliary ventilation system to dilute the gasses generated by the fire below each of their threshold limit value.”

“The technology promises to deliver ‘training without risks,’” Wood said.

A future iteration will include augmented reality (AR) technology, which allows real-time experiences with other users superimposed, not unlike what some games such as the popular Pokémon Go currently deploy. The possibilities of AR oculi are immeasurable—eventually, not only employing built-in headset cameras, but also exterior cameras in spaces where other real persons actually exist but appear as avatars. Remote operation of real automated equipment in hazardous mine areas will be part of the technology’s coming application. With each advancement, the goal is to see improvements in safety for the mine workforce.

Next phase

This collaborative initiative will next add the immersive mine evacuation training module to the metaverse platform. This will help model and understand workers’ behavior during emergencies while increasing the miners’ confidence to reach the closest refuge station or exit the mine.

“This metaverse platform maximizes educational efficiency by offering a bridge between theoretical knowledge and practical mining applications,” explained Kocsis. In addition, the simulated space for high-complexity mining operations prepares students for the dynamic challenges offered by the mining industry.

For the U, the Minverso collaboration represents a serious commitment to shape the future of mining education using new technologies. This endeavor not only transfers vast institutional and site-specific knowledge, but also provides virtual experiences to equip new mining engineers. As the mine workforce ages out, there is a pressing need to ensure the continuity of expertise within the industry. The metaverse platform is part of a successful transition.

“We showcased the modules at a mining engineering conference in February and compared to other schools, our booth was super busy—there was interest in the VR from young students to senior professionals to instrumentation developers and other researchers,” said Kocsis. “The VR demo at our department’s open house generated interest from the high school students, which could improve enrollment in the mining engineering field.”

Media & PR Contact:
Bianca Lyon, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications, College of Science,


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