Virtually amazing technology

WITH issues of safety and health forefront in the industry, virtual reality-based training is a hot topic in today’s collegiate mining engineering programs. With record numbers of experienced miners currently leaving the field, the development of better training techniques for new miners entering the field is crucial to safety.
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Virtual training module

Donna Schmidt

Published in the August 2005 American Longwall Magazine

One US school, the University of Missouri-Rolla, is applying hazards encountered by miners on the job to further develop a practical, safe method for training inexperienced workers so that they may be better prepared for hazardous situations underground.

Dr Larry Grayson, chair of the university’s Department of Mining and Nuclear Engineering, said his research team was now working on developments in the area of virtual training for jackleg drilling. Their simulated environment, said Grayson, was “a training program that put together the best work practices and let them learn the work practices”, which was accomplished by wearing a headset while working on a treadmill to get the most comprehensive and near-reality experience.

“Virtually, they will see themselves grabbing the jackleg drill, setting it up properly, and then using it.” As it is activated, random events such as deteriorating roof conditions and jackleg drill failures can be added in.

Grayson and his team have just completed capturing images for their software module using their own experimental mine, located near campus, as a model. By reproducing the texture and environment of the mine under various conditions, they will create the most realistic training program for workers.

Grayson hopes that once a cost-effective prototype is developed, the tool can be adapted for use on-site at a mine for not only jackleg drilling, but eventually mechanical roof bolting machines. Additionally, the school will work with other institutions developing similar virtual training devices so that students and instructors can share ideas and knowledge to advance this classroom of the future.

With those images now captured by the team at UMR, the sights and sounds of the mine can now be added in. In July 2005, Grayson and his team welcomed an experienced jackleg driller who served as a model for this element of the module.

“He wore a head-mounted camera with good resolution, equipped with a microphone, and we captured scenes and sounds for the entire work process from the perspective of the miner,” Grayson said. “We’ll use this information [and] data to reproduce his sights and the sounds for the simulation.”

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