Danger training without the risk

TRAINING and preparing personnel for dangerous mining situations that cannot be safely replicated in an actual setting is a difficult task, but with the development of virtual reality (VR) simulators it is becoming possible.

Staff Reporter

VR is a simulation device that surrounds the trainee with a three-dimensional computer generated representation in which they can actively participant in a virtual world, making decisions and dealing with the consequences.

VR Solutions business development manager Gary Eves recently told the Australian Mining Technology Conference last week that VR was an ideal training tool for people working in complex environments.

He said the VR technology had many attributes that lend it to training, including process emulation, control, repeatability, interaction and complexity of scenario.

"The best safety benefits can be obtained from individual and team based cognitive process training, experiential learning, enhanced decision making and improved communications, all learnt in carefully constructed VR scenarios," Eves said.

The Australian underground coal mining industry has slowly recognised the benefits of VR, with many mining companies choosing to use programs such as continuous miner, longwall and roof bolter simulators to teach personnel how to operate equipment safely and efficiently.

"One of the critical issues facing the mining industry, like many others is how to provide the benefit of "experience" to the inexperienced and how to encapsulate real working knowledge into a training programme," Eves said.

He said situational awareness, decision making and mental model developments are all born of experience and posed the question:

"How do you provide years of experience to the novice or provide the knowledge and decision making skill required to cope with situations that only occur once in a working lifetime, but require that lifetimes worth of experience to deal with?"

Eves said simulation developers aim to provide absolute realism, thought to be the best way of achieving transfer of training from the classroom to the real world, by replicating the real world in the learning situation.

The mining industry has used VR in a variety of applications including driver training, safe equipment operation and hazard awareness programs.

Eves said the evolution of VR training systems from simple, single user skills process trainers through to decision and cognitive training systems to more complex group interactive environments demonstrates the applicability of the technology for safety training in complex situations.

He said the latest simulation systems offer benefits to a level not economically available before, including;

Control - the ability to interact with and define the environment

Repeatability - the ability to rerun with ease the training situation

Measurability - the desire to measure user performance or score

Safety - the ability to construct hazardous situations in complete safety

Cost reduction - to get more training benefit per dollar spent than another mechanism.

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