Unless you are actively involved in the mining industry, technology isn’t something you would associate with the extraction of earthly minerals and resources.

Most of us still have the idea that mining is all about using manual labour to operate extraction machinery, and the operation just moves to the next area once a particular section has been exhausted.

While that might be true to some degree, there’s actually a lot more to it, and once a site has been earmarked for mining, there are a number of things that need to happen before drill can be placed in rock.

One of those processes is the actual planning and layout of the mine, examining the safety aspects thereof and how the mine will operate.

Technological Assistance

But how can technology assist in something as earthbound as mining? Well, with the help of an R18.8 million investment from Kumba Iron Ore, the University of Pretoria unveiled its new virtual reality centre for mining.

The Kumba Virtual Reality Centre for mine design (VRC) is divided into two parts: the first is a traditional 3D movie theatre, while the second is a 3D cylinder theatre with a 360-degree field of view.

Through the use of 3D in the respective theatres, lecturers at the university have much better educational tools at their disposal, as students will get a better view of how mines operate.

“Our students are among the first in Africa to experience real-life incidents in a 3D virtual mine while sitting in a lecture room. Within five years everyone will know what an ‘imagineer’ is because they will come from this university,” said Professor Ronny Webber-Youngman, head of the Department of Mining Engineering at The University of Pretoria.

More engaged than ever before

Engineering subjects are highly scientific and often difficult for students to visualise, but through the creation of the Virtual Reality Centre, Webber-Youngman says his students are more engaged in their lectures than ever before.

But the VR centre isn’t just being used to explain to students how to plan a mine, it’s also being used to examine the safety aspects of mining.

“This virtual reality centre has the added benefit of safety; something we at Kumba take very seriously. We are very proud of the fact that we have had no loss of life for over a year now which speaks to our goal of zero harm. Nothing brings home the dangers of our profession so brutally than to lose a member of your team and then having to convey the news to his or her family,” explained Norman Mbazima, CEO of Kumba Iron Ore.

He added: “A virtual reality centre for the study of mine design not only creates a safe environment for study, but by mimicking reality will deliver mining engineers to the industry that are better prepared for the conditions they might face when deployed to a mine.”

Webber-Youngman concluded that the VR technology can actually be used by almost any faculty, from medical to military, as it assists in planning for the future as well as running through scenarios for health and safety.

Watch the video below to get a better sense of the Kumba Virtual Reality Centre as Webber-Youngman explains how it works.

[Image – CC by 2.0/wwwuppertal]
Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.