Virtual reality a training tool for mine site workers

Curtin University is using a new pair of virtual reality headsets to change the way mine workers are trained.

The use of the headsets, being developed in conjunction with Los-Angeles based Oculus VR allow users to immerse themselves in virtual reality and take a look around the environment by simply moving their heads.

Added gadgets like data gloves and treadmills provide opportunity for further interaction and exploration, meaning objects can be moved around the virtual area.

At the Hub for Immersive Visualisation and eResearch, Curtain University’s Dr Torsten Reiners is using the technology to test virtual realities for education and training purposes.

It is hoped the Oculus Rift VR headsets will be used to train workers before they start work on potentially dangerous sites, like mines.

Yesterday, mining industry representatives tested the headsets at an event held at Deloitte's offices in Perth, The West Australian reported.

"There are so many possibilities," Deloitte partner Coert Du Plessis said.

"For the safety example, people remember issues more when something happens to them, so if you can simulate that in a virtual world it will stick in their mind."

Some say the headsets, which are expected to sell for around $US300 each, could replace the costly simulator machines which are currently used by mining and contract companies to train their staff.

Reiners said the technology makes the learning experience more authentic.

“The experience is personal,” Reiners  said.

“It’s you in there.”

He said students will have the potential to “walk around” potentially hazardous sites and solve problems, stating this makes for better-prepared workers because they have essentially experienced issues before they occur in the real-world.

Reiners said one of the important aspects of the training in a virtual world is that it allowed students to ‘fail’ in a safe environment.

He said it was important for users’ characters to “die” in the virtual world so they can understand the risks associated with job roles.

Gamification, which is what the headsets were originally made for, will add an important step to training, Reiners said.

It will see students play virtual games where they must apply what they have learnt in traditional classroom settings and complete certain tasks in order to advance to the next level.

National safety manager at BGC Contracting said while the technology was still very new, its potential cost saving benefits would be of interest to the company.

Rio Tinto recently used the Oculus Rift VR headset technology to give visitors to a conference in the US a chance to tour their Diavik diamond operation.

Rio Tinto Diamonds North American office manager Brandee Dallow said that the interactive technology will bring the mining experience to life in a very compelling way.

“Our goal in showcasing Oculus Rift at this year's JCK Show is to start the dialogue with our customers and other members of the diamond jewellery industry about the new approaches available to better capture the next generation consumer,” she said.

"It is important for the diamond industry, from the trade through to the final consumer, to gain an understanding of where Rio Tinto's diamonds come from and how they are mined. The mine to market story is very important to us and so we are delighted to present this new tool to the industry.”

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