Augmented reality may transform mining safety
A leading consulting company has confirmed that many larger global organisations will be using augmented reality (A/R) and Virtual Reality (V/R) within three years to improve productivity and work safety.
In a recently released report, the Capgemini Research Institute has confirmed that many enterprises are already using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies to enhance their business operations. The report found that 82% of companies currently implementing AR/VR say the benefits are either meeting or exceeding their expectations.
This is all sounding too bloody technical so far! What is AR/VR?
There’s a difference. Brian Cooley’s Cnet.com definition works .
Virtual Reality (VR) is when the sights and sounds around you are replaced with virtual, computer-generated ones. The environment that results can be quite natural (being at a basketball game) or completely imagined (being in a video game). VR surrounds you in 360 degrees and three dimensions to drive home the illusion. In its most ambitious forms, its places are fully navigable as you move through them and use your hands to manipulate objects.
Augmented Reality (AR) is when you look at the real world and see it overlaid, or augmented, with location-specific information and graphics.A digital layer is superimposed on the physical world, integrating the physical, real environment with virtual details to enhance or “augment” the real-world experience. Pokemon Go is probably the example that many of us will be familiar with. Holding up your phone and seeing the image with additional information displayed is in essence AR. (You can also watch the video below if you’d like a better definition)
There’s a range of new products set to enter the market where you can wear a set of glasses that overlay the reality that you’re seeing.
So how can all this AR/VR benefit mining safety?
We have already seen VR being used in mine safety training for many years – albeit with mixed results and a lack of collaborative approach. The University of New South Wales Mining Engineering Department pioneered underground safety induction training several years ago in co-operation with the NSW Mines Rescue.
Since then, there’s been a raft of other centres established around the world to utilise virtual reality scenarios where people can be placed in the midst of a virtual hazardous area or situation. The key safety issues associated with a scenario can be demonstrated without risk to individuals. The ability to virtually place a team of people in an underground mine and demonstrate the consequences of a gas explosion can clearly impact safe working behaviours and help learners understand the implications of specific actions.
There’s also been some pioneering Australian companies like Immersive Technologieswho have pioneered mining simulators and Virtual Reality systems for training operators in responses to emergencies. Other organisations like the QLD Government’s Safety in Mines Testing & Research Station (Simtars) has also been exploring application of VR in mining.
Is there anything about to change?
Short Answer – Yes! It is changing at a rapid rate. The computing power and relative ease of access to VR/AR technology and systems is growing at breakneck speeds.
Capgemini highlights that companies like Boeinghas used augmented reality to provide technicians with instructions for airplane wiring schematics in their field of view, allowing them to be hands-free. This reduces wiring production time by 25%, increases productivity by 40%, and eliminates error rates.
In other practical applications Operators at Toms River Municipal Utilities Authority, a USA utility company, use virtual and augmented reality to see concealed utilities such as water, gas, electric, and sanitary and storm water sewer utility features. This concept of “seeing through the ground” is possible through an application that processes data from the geographic information system (GIS) that the Microsoft HoloLens ultimately turns into a holographic projection of underground utility features based on the user’s location and orientation. This innovation increases the productivity of the field workforce on a daily basis and more so under emergency situations such as fire or flooding.
What about the application in mining safety?
The opportunities for improving mining safety through use of augmented reality (AR) are now endless. Apart from the aspects of training new industry recruits, there is a whole world of possibilities for use in the mining industry. Let’s think about a few:
- Plant maintenance engineers could be using AR (like Boeing) to assist with maintenance processes on heavy equipment. Hazards of particular plant and equipment can be identified through the use of AR glasses that an operator wears while performing the job;
- Heavy equipment operators could be alerted to hazard scenarios based on risk algorithms before operators are exposed to the risk;
- Underground miners can see critical safety information in their fields of view while undertaking a task. There’s no need to glance a gas monitor or listen to a radio while performing the work;
- Risk assessments can be done in real time using algorithms based on hazard experience data.
- Known hazardous areas can be alerted to staff through connected eyewear.
- Procedures manuals become a thing of the past. Staff will be able to use an iPad to view a piece of plant or equipment and see applicable procedures, risks and hazards in real time.
As far back as 2015, companies like Ford have successfully used virtual reality to increase safety on their assembly lines. The virtual reality systems identify human movement captured through body motion sensors during equipment assembly with the goal of re-engineering movement to decrease risk of injury and increase productivity. This has resulted in a 70% drop in employee injuries and 90% reduction in ergonomic issues.
Training courses underway
Victoria’s RMIT has now launched the world’s first university short course in VR and AR using Amazon’s Sumerian platform, which doesn’t require any specialised programming or 3D graphics expertise. Amazon Web Services’ Brad Coughlan said “AR and VR represent some of the hottest areas in technology and the new courses would address the skill gap.”
The challenge now will be for the Australian mining industry to set a strategy in AR/VR where we see development of training/safety standards and collaboration to ensure that the most effective use of AR/VR across the industry. Too often we have seen a disjointed approach between key mining houses with regard to the adoption/integration of emerging technology resulting in duplication of effort, additional cost and the absence of set standards.
What the experts say?
Capgemini Australia digital strategy and transformation director Peter Meliniotis recently said AR, where digital images are imposed over the real-life environment, as in Pokemon GO, had a lower barrier to entry than VR, which requires an immersive digital environment.
Mr Meliniotis said AR was being used in safety goggles in mining while those inspecting utility boxes on the street were turning to glasses that overlay instructions over the box, rather than workers picking up a paper manual.
He said VR so far was lending itself to training situations especially where workers face the threat of death or serious injury.
One such example is Australian-designed FLAIM Trainerthat puts firefighters in virtual fires. “It’s really interesting that enterprises are actually embracing AR and VR ahead of consumers,” Mr Meliniotis told AAP this week.
“Having augmented reality safety goggles is a really easy step for a miner to take whereas getting consumers to wear glasses every single day to provide them with an AR experience is a lot more onerous.”
Key Takeaway Points on Augmented Reality
- AR/VR is now readily available and emerging at a rapid rate;
- There are immediate applications available to improve mining industry safety (most effectively in the maintenance/engineering areas);
- Courses are now available for AR/VR Training;
- Industry collaborative effort is mixed. The Australian mining industry strategy may reduce costs in the long term and speed up deployment across the industry
You can read the Capgemini report here “Augmented and Virtual Reality in Operations: A guide for investment”
Boeing, “Boeing Tests Augmented Reality in the Factory,” January 2018
Linkedin, “Toms River MUA – Esri ArcNews – 2018,” January 2018
The Detroit News, “Virtual Technology Streamlines Ford’s Manufacturing,” July 2015.