Virtual reality makes mining safer

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) are using video game and Virtual Reality (VR) technology to develop new training tools for mine employees working at heights on mine sites.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) are using video game and Virtual Reality (VR) technology to develop new training tools for mine employees working at heights on mine sites.

In a project which has attracted the attention of global mining giant BHP Billiton, UNSW’s School of Mining Engineering, in the Faculty of Engineering, and the University of Adelaide are leading a collaborative VR Simulation Project to develop a virtual reality training program for hazard awareness and safe working practices.

Work at heights on mine sites, on ladders, construction scaffolds and other elevated platforms, has resulted in a number of serious incidents causing injury and death.

The $430,000 training initiative has been developed in response to the rapid growth of South Australia’s mining industry.

BHP Billiton will pilot the project at its Olympic Dam operations.

UNSW’s Dr Phillip Stothard, joint chief investigator on the VR Simulation Project, said the program draws on extensive virtual reality experience at UNSW and the University of Adelaide.

“The UNSW School of Mining Engineering’s Mining VR Team is a cross-disciplinary team of artists, computer scientists, mining engineers and education experts,” he said.

“UNSW and the University of Adelaide are partnering with BHP Billiton, TAFE SA, Skills DMC and the Resources and Engineering Skills Alliance in developing and using a simulation which can be compared with a computer game but with a much more serious outcome. This has the potential to be a very big project and have a huge influence on training practices across many high-risk industries.”

The VR training tool will be used on a desktop computer or scaled up for use in 180-degree and 360-degree surround cinema “immersive environments”.

Trainees will find themselves in a completely recreated, interactive, virtual mine where they will encounter all of the hazards that exist in a real workplace.

BHP Billiton Group Manager Corporate Affairs, Richard Yeeles, said the expansion of Olympic Dam had offered “the opportunity to develop industry-transforming processes to enhance the safety and efficiency of mining”.

The VR Simulation training is expected to be in use by March, 2009.

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