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Virtual reality mine provides increased learning opportunities

virtual reality mine used for training undergraduate miners in mining practices
A European conference has recently heard of a new virtual reality mine being established at a German university.

The use of virtual reality and gamification to train personnel in mining techniques and hazards have shown to have significant benefits for learning and retention of learning amongst participants. Over several years, Australia has demonstrated several virtual reality mining projects in recent years including work undertaken by the University of NSW / Coal Services VRT to capture real life mining environments and scenarios. The evolution and benefits of mine virtual reality training have also been highlighted at a recent European conference.

At the APCOM ‘Mining Goes Digital Conference’ currently being held in Warsaw, participants have heard of the benefits of a virtual reality mine to the learning experiences of mining undergraduates.

Feldmann and Suppes from the Aachen University, Institute of Mineral Resources Engineering together with Abdelrazeq and Daling from the Cybermatics Lab shared their experiences in their technical paper ‘Virtual Reality Mine: A vision for digitalised mining engineering education’

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With a growing demand for immersive education in mining, a virtual reality mine has been recently established in Germany to assist mining engineers at Aachen University to gain scenario-based learning experiences.

They say that for prospective mining engineers, practical experience, a comprehensive understanding of complex three-dimensional processes as well as technical-human-environmental interdependencies are a crucial skill set. These aspects are difficult to convey in traditional university teaching.

In this context, the benefits of Virtual Reality are the possible direct 3D immersion into locations that are remote, too costly to visit and/or unsafe. Furthermore, VR-based learning increases the learner’s involvement and motivation while widening the range of supported learning styles.

Aachen’s VR-Mine is based on the concepts of blended learning, gamification and flipped classroom, and focusses on the topics health and safety, and principles of underground mining. During the self-study phase, the students immerse into the virtual environment where they are led through various scenarios.

They are given the task to work through specific chapters and to solve simulated problems afterwards. Switching among sub-topics is enabled and each student can take the time required to complete the chapters. Hence, the students can deal with potential issues of comprehension proactively. This is opposed to classical teaching where a limited linear time schedule is followed.

The benefit of this approach is the combination of knowledge transfer and immediate application. Thus, it is expected that this will support problem-based learning and enhance critical thinking. The overall goal is not only to transform the knowledge transfer in a digitalised world but also to enable students to widen their experience by visiting different virtual mine sites which are based on existing mines. Since every mine has its own characteristics, a variety of individual mining-related phenomena can be observed, supporting the development of a profound understanding of the processes in underground mining.

“To date, the photogrammetry-based 3D scene development of the Mittersill mine is nearly complete, the scenarios are built and the transfer of lecture material into them is prepared (platform: Unity engine, Oculus Rift VR goggles).

It is envisaged to commence the implementation of Virtual Reality Mine into the curricula of the mining engineering graduate programmes at RWTH Aachen University and TalTech University in Autumn 2019. An application of at other universities or in the industry is planned in the medium-term after a successful evaluation.

In the industry, this could help to increase health and safety standards due to the specialised training of new workforce or for training workers for new tasks in an environment where mistakes can be made without consequences.”

Further information on the virtual reality mine and the technical paper is available in the Proceedings of the 39th international Symposium ‘Application of Computers and Operations Research in the Mineral Industry’ (APCOM 2019), Wroclaw, Poland, 4-6 June 2019.

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