Making vision visible at the University of Pretoria

2017-11-27 08:36

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

A partnership between Kumba Iron Ore – a subsidiary of Anglo American – and the University of Pretoria is changing how mining engineering students are taught. Kumba Iron Ore worked with the university to enhance the students’ learning experience by creating the first Virtual Reality (VR) Centre for Mine Design on the African continent. The centre was inaugurated on 4 August 2015.

The VR Centre, which comprises a state of the art 75-seater lecture hall with a 3D Stereoscopic theatre, and a ‘cylinder’ room enclosed by a 360-degree 3D screen, is an innovative approach to optimising and visualising information.

Professor Ronny Webber-Youngman, who heads up the mining engineering department, says that the VR technology offers an immersive learning experience for mine design. The VR Centre started as a dream in 2011 and, in 2015 when it was completed, Webber-Youngman coined the slogan ‘Making Vision Visible’ and the word ‘imagineers’, which is used to describe the student engineers using the facilities.

“The VR Centre enhances our students’ understanding of mining layouts, the practicalities of working mines, and underground conditions. Using virtual reality, our students can experience real-life scenarios within the risky mining environment – in a zero-risk surrounding. Instead of ‘engineering’ answers, they’re now able to visualise scenarios in a way we couldn’t have imagined before. They’re able to apply their minds, think differently, and to see the future of mining differently.”

Bongi Ntsoelengoe, Technology Manager at Kumba Iron Ore, says that the VR Centre demonstrates the company’s commitment to using technology in mining. Kumba believes that technology is key to its future of realising zero harm and improving productivity to remain profitable and competitive in the long term. Kumba firmly believes in building a robust skills base in the country and recognises a need to invest in the next generation of mining professionals who are tomorrow’s leaders. “This VR technology is our way of making a real difference. Making this investment will yield future benefits.”

The visualisation support features of the VR Centre further enhance the increase in learning potential, and is related to a dramatic increase in student numbers. There has been a jump from around 70 students in the late 90s to approximately 400 students in the mining engineering department in 2015. This has also cemented the engineering faculty’s position as the higher education institution of choice for such students.

The department was recently awarded the AEL Mining Services Chair for Innovative Rock Breaking Technology, as well as the Harmony Chair in Rock Engineering and Numerical Modelling. Visualisation of research outcomes has been highlighted as a required outcome for both these chairs. The VR Centre has also sparked a campus-wide ambition to explore and assimilate immersive teaching and learning across the Faculty of Engineering Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT) and, eventually, also in all its other nine faculties.

Postgraduate student Jennifer Sapsford, who is working on a project that will make blasting safer, says that the VR Centre makes the results of her equations real: “Flyrock is the rock debris that’s flung further than anticipated after a blast. VR allows me to see what will happen to the flyrock under different scenarios. Different inputs will present different outcomes, and VR makes these outcomes visual. I can watch what will happen, rather than just comparing equations.”

Sapsford says that when these findings, and the resulting safety training, is taken to the mines, the knowledge will save lives. She also believes that the practical aspect that the VR Centre provides will have a massive impact in the workplace.

“We can now simulate, and visualise, the entire layout of a mine,” says Sapsford. “This means we aren’t limited to a view of one tunnel at a time – and so we can conceptualise enhanced production processes and support services that are optimised across the entire mine.”

Eugene Preis, a mining engineering postgraduate student, says that the changes in the department since his first year on campus, in 2010, have been massive – but he predicts that, in just a few years, this VR technology will also incorporate Augmented Reality (AR) and will be available on mobile platforms industry-wide.

Ntsoelengoe concurs in a broader sense: “Through Anglo American’s FutureSmart Mining™ programme we’re looking at innovation across our value chain to find integrated solutions for various challenges like the creation of safe working conditions and sustainable mining operations. We’re thinking about innovation differently to bring about focus on safety and environmental sustainability.”

Using an analogy of light, Kumba believes that it has been enhancing candle light to burn brighter, through the rapid adoption of proven technology solutions. However, the company believes that the mining’s ‘light bulb’ is yet to be created by pushing the boundaries, using cutting-edge technology platforms such as VR, and via partnerships with equipment manufacturers and educational institutions.


Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.