Prof Webber-Youngman beamed like a new father as Mr Norman Mbazima, CEO of Kumba Iron Ore, officially opened the Kumba Virtual Reality Centre for mine design (VRC), as well as the new offices of the Department of Mining Engineering and the Mining Resilience Research Institute (MRRI), on 4 August 2015.
This new infrastructure, an R18.8 million investment that took three years to complete, is set to save the South African mining industry a lot of time and money, and could save lives by helping to improve health and safety, says Prof Webber-Youngman.
At the launch, invited guests experienced the VRC’s 3-D stereoscopic theatre and its 3-D, 360 degree cylinder theatre first hand during a live demonstration. They were also given a tour of the new offices and the mine design lecture room, all of which is set to revolutionise education, research and mine design at UP.
“Our students are of the first in Africa to experience real-life incidents in a 3-D virtual mine in while sitting in a lecture room,” says Prof Webber-Youngman, giving the example of a rock fall underground in which miners may be injured. He explains that using VR to supplement actual mine visits is much cheaper and mistakes are painless, yet the immersive nature of the simulations means the emotional effects are tangible.
Prof Webber-Youngman says his students are more engaged in their lectures than ever before. Engineering subjects are highly scientific and often difficult for students to visualise, which is why he says the VRC will create a new generation of engineers able to imagine better solutions to real-world problems.
“I call them my ‘imagineers’,” he says.
“This all started with mining, but there are applications for the VRC from the field of medicine to the military,” says Prof Webber-Youngman. His vision is that all UP faculties involved in mining research will become integrated with the centre, including “lawyers, medical researchers, and even the veterinary guys who look at mine rehabilitation and pastures.”
Despite the advantages of this new approach to mine design, research and education, however, Prof Webber-Youngman cautions that VR can never replace exposure to real mines. As such, actual mine visits will remain central to his department’s activities.
“What we are trying to do with the VR is simulate, as closely as possible, the real mining environment rather than an ‘ideal’ situation, because we don’t want to create an expectation that mining has no toughness and no roughness. One needs to be cautious not to over-honeymoon the idea of mining, and never underestimate the reality that goes with it.”
Watch a video about the new Kumba Virtual Reality Centre for mine design (VRC) below.
- Author Department of University Relations
Last edited by Buyisiwe Nkonyane
UP students are of the first in Africa to experience real-life incidents in a 3-D virtual mine while sitting in a lecture room