Immersive VR & Mine Safety

March 4, 2024

Above: students attending the Department of Mining Engineering's Open House in 2023 try out the new Mining Metaverse virtual reality experience designed by Minverso. The app is currently being readied for download worldwide. 

The Center for Mine Safety and Health at the Department of Mining Engineering, University of Utah in collaboration with Minverso has developed the initial phase of a first-ever metaverse platform which includes a Health & Safety training program for the mining industry developed by using virtual reality (VR) technology.

This collaborative initiative blends cutting-edge technology with academic expertise for both students and the mining industry. 

“This mining metaverse is not just technological innovation,” says Department Chair Charles Koscis. “It is, most importantly, a product of shared experience and dedication to providing students and the mining industry a holistic and immersive learning experience.”

Above and below: Stills from VR experience teaching real world health and safety protocols. Credit: Minverso

To achieve this, qualified faculty and research assistants in the department, the U and the company Minverso, a VR training company headquartered in Chile, created a research team to build, test with industry partners, and validate an innovative health and safety training program to be coupled later with a mine evacuation training system for mine workers. 

The initial phase of the system which was made available to the public in late February 2024 provides real-time guidance to underground mine workers in case of emergency and saves lives while establishing a far-reaching culture of safety & health at underground mines in the US and worldwide. 

At the department’s open house this past October, students and visitors were given the opportunity to don the required ocular headsets and experience VR first-hand by entering two portals: one to a classroom modeled after one in the FASB, and another leading to a mine in which they could traverse and handle the controls of underground equipment. 

VR technology promises not only to serve future mining companies which can customize the VR experience to their own sites, but will also serve as a recruitment tool for the department and other mining programs, says Minverso commercial director Dallin Wood. With the launch of the technology “people [are now] experimenting with technology and what it’s like to be a miner. Hopefully, we can bring in students excited to learn about mining. For example, a recent feature includes operating a drilling rig from start to finish and learning how to lead.’” 

For the next phase, the research team will include experts in psychology, education, and health sciences from the U.

Safety First

Of course, improving safety records in mines–for current operators and future mining engineers—is always foremost in the industry’s mind. “The initial phase of this metaverse platform includes an immersive Mine Rescue simulation scenario in which underground miners work together to neutralize a fire that started in the engine compartment of a load-haul-dump (LHD) machine,” explains Kocsis. “This real-world scenario demands critical thinking and swift collaboration between mine workers to perform tasks in the right sequence from de-energizing the mining equipment, extinguishing the fire, followed by ramping up the auxiliary ventilation system to dilute the gasses generated by the fire below each of their threshold limit value.” Wood says that the technology promises to deliver “training without risks.”

Eventually, the next iteration of VR will be to include augmented reality (AR) technology, which allows real-time experiences with other users superimposed, not unlike what some games such as the popular Pokémon Go currently deploys. The possibilities of AR oculi are immeasurable, eventually using not only the built-in headset cameras but exterior cameras in spaces where other real persons actually exist but appear as avatars. Remote operation of real automated equipment particularly in hazardous mine areas are also in the offing. 

“It’s possible that with AR you can be looking at the ball mill [the rotation of which grinds material, reducing its particle size], but then you see blinking lights above it, and you touch one of the lights, and the last maintenance schedule pops up right in front of your eyes,” says Wood, referring to future components in the works. Users can immediately see that “this grease zerk was last greased on this date. A red flashing light indicates that ‘hey, this needs to be done and then this needs to be done,’ and so on.”  

Next Phase

The next phase of this collaborative initiative will add the immersive Mine Evacuation training module to the metaverse platform. This will help model and understand workers’ behavior in case of emergency while increasing the confidence of miners in reaching the closest refuge station or exit the mine in case of an underground fire or other emergency.

“This collaborative metaverse platform maximizes educational efficiency by offering a bridge between theoretical knowledge and practical mining applications,” explains Kocsis. In addition, the simulated space for high-complexity mining operations prepares students for the dynamic challenges offered by the mining industry.

For the U the Miverso collaboration is a journey and a commitment to shaping the future of mining education that also includes a need to transfer in the years to come as miners age-out a vast amount of institutional and site-specific knowledge and early virtual experience to new mining engineers. 

Currently in MetaLab, you can "sideload" Minverso's Mining Metverse app for your device here.