The Department of Information Science, Department of Mining Engineering, and Exxaro have come together to establish the Exxaro chair in XR Technology.

Posted on March 10, 2021

Thanks to Exxaro, one of the top five coal producers in South Africa and a constituent of the JSE’s Top 40 index, and the initiative and hard work of Prof. Ronny Webber-Youngman and Mr Jannie Maritz from the Department of Mining Engineering, as well as Mr Koos de Beer from the Department of Information Science, the Exxaro Chair in XR (Extended Reality) Technology has been established.

The University of Pretoria supports research to challenge the obstacles associated with the 4th Industrial Revolution. Researching XR technology, as part of a strategic intervention in dealing with mining-related challenges, is one of these initiatives. The all-pervasive nature of XR technology and its applications is evident, and its relevance for mining-related challenges will now be explored, to optimise the resources of companies like Exxaro.

The University of Pretoria (through the Department of Information Science and Department of Mining Engineering) aims to contribute by providing expertise in:

  • Selecting the most appropriate XR technology for the specific application, and then designing interactions that can enable intuitive interaction with virtual environments.
  • Extensive user testing of proposed solutions to ensure that the solutions address as many of the challenges as possible.
  • Exposing users to the technology through creative interactive paradigms and introductions to the experiences, to ensure accessibility to the technology.
  • Educating and training the next generation of developers and researchers with real-world projects that are unique to XR technology and immersive learning, in student programmes, postgraduate research projects and industry projects.

The Exxaro Chair in XR Technology will offer a framework firstly on how the XR technology can be used to address the respective challenges, and secondly on identifying which of the available technologies will best serve the solution. Some examples of the different technology trade-offs are listed below:

  • Application and utilization of individual or shared VR.
  • Mobile VR versus tethered VR versus cave setup.
  • Using VR to communicate / facilitate or interact / influence.
  • Tracked versus un-tracked VR space.
  • Hand tracking versus full body tracking.

The following appointments have been made:

  • Prof. Ina Fourie (Head of Department of Information Science): Exxaro Chair in XR Technology.
  • Mr Koos de Beer and Mr Jannie Maritz: researchers and consultants.
  • Prof. Ronny Webber-Youngman (Head of Department of Mining Engineering): acting advisor to the Chair.

The Virtual Reality and Interaction (VRI) Laboratory is hosted in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria. It applies XR technologies to design interactive user experiences for numerous real-world practicalities. The emphasis is on using commercial XR technologies for user-centred problem-solving to intricate academic and industry-related problems. With further support, such as the establishment of the Exxaro Chair in XR technology, the process will be extended to increase education opportunities, advance the development process, and promote the number of project-based research outputs.

The Department of Information Science is proud to have established this partnership and looks forward to working alongside Exxaro and the Department of Mining Engineering for more efficient and inventive coal mining practices.

- Author Anneke Nel
Published by Anneke Nel

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