Bringing Virtual and Augmented Reality to the Forefront of Mining

Mar 3, 2017 8:00 PM ET
Blog

As part of our series on #DisruptMining Innovation, in today’s post we share how virtual and augmented reality technology can improve efficiency and increase productivity at Goldcorp.

Virtual and augmented reality (VAR) use to be the exclusive domain of science fiction, but it’s now making inroads in the resource sector, bringing with it the potential to change the face of the mining industry.

Over the last few months, Goldcorp has been working to evaluate possible applications of VAR technology at our mine sites.

For example, Microsoft’s HoloLens is one of the first fully untethered, holographic computer enabling users to interact with high-definition holograms in the real world. This technology could conceivably transform how mining professionals work, communicate and collaborate. Microsoft’s HoloLens enables users to view, control and interact with 3D content using their hands and voice. This is done through a self-contained headset which allows HoloLens to overlay high-definition holograms over the user’s physical environment.

Seeing the potential to extend the applicability of this technology to the mining sector, Microsoft recently partnered with Trimble to integrate its HoloLens technology with Trimble’s Connected Mine Visual Intelligence module. Users can visualize mine designs or stopes and interact and manipulate virtual data to evaluate improvements. Additionally, it will help users to collaborate with other professionals’ offsite, who can see and interact with the same holographic images, all without the need of a computer screen or keyboard.

“Imagine the benefits of a Mine Engineer at Éléonore in Quebec talking to an Engineer at Cerro Negro in Argentina, where they’re looking at the same virtual 3D image pointing out problem areas or identifying opportunities at a particular stope without having to physically be there,” says Todd White, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Goldcorp. Todd further explained, “This technology has great potential to help people collaborate more effectively and make faster, more informed decisions that will improve efficiency and increase productivity.”

VAR could also help Geologists and Engineers confirm and field test their models and plans through holographic spatial mapping. They would be able to visualize mine design, a bench in a pit or a block model to more accurately define ore tonnage and grade. Rather than simply viewing a 2D or 3D representation on a monitor or paper, VAR users can interact with and manipulate holographic images.

Gil Lawson, Goldcorp’s Vice President, Geology and Mine Planning, sees tremendous opportunity for VAR technology in the areas of mine planning, training and safety, “Using virtual and augmented reality to transport people to the face of the mine to address an issue in a high-risk area without them having to physically go underground would go a long way towards making our operations safer.”

Gil also sees potential for costs savings by reducing the need to travel. “Cerro Negro mine is our most remote mine site,” he points out. “It’s a 20-hour trip just to get to the mine. If we can use this technology to virtually do an inspection or share information in real-time without having to send people to the mine site, that would improve efficiency significantly.”

Trainers could also instruct miners globally, without having to travel, by combining step-by-step instruction with holograph images providing a more engaging and immersive learning environment.

“The initial evaluations of virtual and augmented reality technology has been promising and we’re determining what areas we want to apply this technology to and how we’re going to take it to the next level,” explains Luis Canepari, Goldcorp’s Vice President, Technology. “The next step is to develop a prototype that could be deployed at one of Goldcorp’s mine sites in late-2017 or mid-2018.”

“As an industry, we have to reinvent ourselves by adopting disruptive technologies in order to stay competitive. Embracing innovation is the key to becoming a leading 21st century mining company, and that’s the direction we’re heading at Goldcorp,” White concludes.