European mining engineering education establishing VR training in teaching practice

Mining engineering applies science and technology to the extraction of minerals. It deals with complex phenomena, ranging from geological conditions such as three-dimensional deposits and structures, to the planning of mines using numerous underground drifts and shafts, to heavy machinery operating in artificially ventilated atmospheres. These characteristics and challenges vary significantly from mine to mine.

VR-Mine project has built a new type of highly informative and interactive virtual mine to fill a gap within our education systems – validating theory with practical scenarios. The VR‐Mine functions as a link that merges the theoretical mining knowledge in academia and practices of the mining industry while fostering knowledge and innovation. The main objective of VR‐Mine was to develop a VR application that is able to transfer aspects of a physical mine to a virtual environment allowing immersion and scalability as it can easily be integrated into any existing university curriculum.

The VR-Mine project enables us to create our own content tailored to the needs of the students for a more efficient learning process. This boosted our ideas beyond what we could imagine back then and we are proud to be a part of it.

Rudolf Suppes, Research Assistant at RWTH Aachen University

The last two decades have seen a large shutdown of underground mines in Europe so that it is becoming more difficult for students to go on internships. The few companies that offer internships have limited capacities and students from abroad are rarely accepted. Thus, it is becoming more difficult for students to acquire relevant work experience. Especially in mining, the ‘wow effect’ of being underground for the first time is a long lasting impression that diverts attention from relevant aspects of a mine. This way, students only slowly develop an understanding of complex underground processes and an eye for hazardous situations. With the VR-Mine, we wanted to provide students with a basic skillset needed for a safety-conscious and self-confident behaviour in real underground mining environment.

The VR-Mine supports the digitalization and can improve the quality of mining engineering education with its unique didactic approach. The product’s features make it not only applicable for universities but also for the industry. We hardly see any direct competitors and believe in its capability for a successful application in training future mining engineers.

Consultant at aixsolution

The application is the first to deliver mining knowledge in a game-like, interactive digital setting. It offers a futuristic and fun approach to equip future mining professionals with the competencies to better understand technical-natural-human interdependencies. Furthermore, it can provide the public with an insight into mining processes.

Underground mines are amongst the most challenging environment with respect to work health and safety. Being unfamiliar with the potential hazards that might occur in underground mining puts young professionals at an elevated degree of risk. When students go on internships, they face a problem: on the one hand, they want to gain experience with underground mining but on the other hand, mining companies prefer to keep them in safe areas to avoid risks. By using the VR-Mine in mining engineering education, we can familiarise students with the challenges of underground mining in a safe environment in a cost-efficient manner. The project also allows universities and mining companies to demonstrate aspects of underground mining to the public, which is impossible in normal operation due to the potential risks of physical visits.

As a teacher, the VR-Mine enables me to give practical lessons on various topics on site without having to travel around the world with a large group of students. Instead, time and money can be saved and used for one-to-one teaching, which is more efficient due to the different learning speeds.

University teacher at RWTH Aachen University

When designing the VR-Mine, the project consortium aimed at simulating the first real underground experience. Implementing interactive scenes was especially challenging. In the VR-Mine, we sometimes tend to forget that the environment is only virtual. We believe the VR-based illustration of mining processes offers a unique opportunity to gain an even better level of understanding than is possible with conventional teaching formats. The project strives to cover more course contents with VR.

For the first time in my studies I got a realistic impression of being underground. The virtual environment also helped me to get a feeling for the dimensions of mine workings.

Student at RWTH Aachen University

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