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Cyberspace moves underground.

Virtual reality is starting to have a very real effect on the bottom lines of mining companies large and small.


The cutting-edge technology is allowing mining partners to seek cost-saving opportunities and build on existing resources through virtual reality hubs strategically placed throughout Northern Ontario.

An investment by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) will help improve technology at virtual reality laboratories (VRLs) in Sudbury and Red Lake and establish a new lab in Timmins. There is also the possibility of a portable facility which would be stationed in Kirkland Lake.

They will be linked with a "head office" lab in Toronto via the Northern Advanced Visualization Network (NAVNet).

Imagine a portion of a sphere with a radius of about 12 feet. Now imagine sitting in the centre of it, and all around is a graphic, multi-dimensional visualization of an ore body.

The effect is the ore body "coming off the screen", according to Andrew Dasys, managing director of Laurentian University's NAVNet, a research group affiliated with the Mining Innovation Rehabilitation and Applied Research Organization (MIRARCO).

Mining companies in Greater Sudbury and Red Lake have used the giant screens to obtain three-dimensional images of the earth by combining drill hole data, topographical maps, magnetic surveys and airborne photos.

As a result, they are able to extract pertinent information much quicker than in the past. For instance, they can devise alternative tunnel routes to avoid rock bursts by instituting mathematical processes. Within the image, colour is used as an extra dimension to highlight various factors. For instance, high stress locations can be emphasized in red and low areas in blue.

"If you change the geometry, you can change the stress distribution, potentially decreasing the number of bursts," Dasys points out.

The virtual facility can also be used as a means to give junior mining companies the expertise they would not otherwise obtain. The commodity-driven market advances due to junior discoveries which are eventually acquired by senior mining companies. Such companies have more investment dollars to bring forth new skill sets for mine production. NAVNet will bring those skill sets to the juniors, Dasys says.

"The idea is to use advanced visualization to get the market to understand what potential these companies have in Northern Ontario."

The advantage in having access to NAVNet is ease of use. The technology takes a lot of complex data and translates it into an easy-to-read graphic. The ore body can be looked at from a variety of angles and vantage points.

Better communications plus faster and more effective decision-making leads to money saved, Dasys says.

Red Lake's Goldcorp operation used this technology to make a $13 million decision to sink a shaft where more gold ore resides.

A VRL also allows officials to visualize safety, environment and infrastructure implementations, locate ore grade and the direction of drill holes, mine control methods, engineering schedules, human resources and equipment planning.

If companies can obtain information that triggers this kind of economic development, imagine what can be accessed through 5-D models, Dasys says.

Adding two dimensions to the image, one for time and another for value, provides a clearer image of mine production, Dasys says.

For example, gold is currently outperforming the bull markets of 1980 and 1990 in both time and price.

"If you have low-outline grade, it becomes ore at $800 an ounce; it also becomes waste at perhaps $400 an ounce."

Part of the research will illustrate the value and history of the mine stopes by colour-coding them. The greener the colour, the more profitable; the redder it is, the more bearish. Each stope can be graded with boxes and sounds indicating the current market value of the ore it bears.

This information is priceless to mining experts, says Dasys. Top mining executives are no longer satisfied with simple exploration data, says Dasys. They want to see data combining geosciences.

"You cannot do that if you are just looking at 3-D models."


Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:virtual reality
Author:Louiseize, Kelly
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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