Students at the University of Arizona can now step foot inside a mine without ever leaving campus. They just need to put on a headset instead of a helmet.
Researchers with the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering have re-created a section of the universitys San Xavier Mining Lab in virtual reality.
Its hard to paint a picture [of mining] in the classroom, just using pictures. Just using simple PowerPoints, said Angelina Anani, associate professor of mining and geological engineering. So we wanted to bring the mines to the classroom and get the students a more immersive experience of understanding how mining really works.
Some students often go to the real mine, which is about 25 miles south of campus, near Sahuarita. They have scanned the mine several times; those scans are then processed into a detailed 3D model, which is then displayed in VR through the help of a Canadian company called LlamaZoo.
The virtual version of the mine, or digital twin, is then accessible for more students to experience the mine more often.
Last school year, UArizona faculty started using the technology in Underground and Surface Mine Planning and Design classes. They hope to incorporate it into more classes.
Would like to see it in courses like safety, and use it for safety training so our students are aware of the environment every time they go into the mine, said Anani.
Students can also see other nearby mines in the virtual world, and fly high above to view the areas slope and geology.
That can give us really important indications of either our ore deposit, the minerals there, or even to rock mechanics in the strength that we might be facing depending on the rock and geology we have there, said Nilufer Akbulut, a research assistant and doctoral student studying digital twins of different mines.
It can also bring new people into mining literally.
An essential tool to recruit students into this department, Anani told KGUN. For them to see how cool mining is and what you can do with it.
Theres big investments being made into virtual reality by different companies and platforms, said Akbulut. And the computing, processing power is just getting better and better, along with the resolution.
This is happening as more scans are done, and more VR mines are built and re-built.
The technology could give students hands-on experience with a variety of real-life scenarios, even including mining on the moon.
The possibilities are endless, said Anani.