Exxaro Resources, one of the South African biggest coal mining giants, has partnered with the department of mining in the faculty of engineering, built environment and information technology (EBIT) at the University of Pretoria to establish the Exxaro chair in extended reality (XR).
The ‘chair’ is one of the important instruments that university departments introduce to articulate their vision and enlist support, either internally or outside, to realise and deliver on the objective.
Exploring best technologies
It is hoped through this partnership the Exxaro Chair will offer a framework of how XR technology can be used to address challenges faced by the mining industry as well as to explore the best available technologies for solutions. More importantly, this investment in technological advancement will allow for constant research that will result in safer, economical and more environmentally sensitive form of mining. The technology is also vital in that mining operations in South Africa have often resulted in deaths or serious accidents as well as contaminating the environment.
Extended reality technology refers to all real-and-virtual-combined environments as well as human-machine interactions generated by computer technology, including augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality (VR).
Opening new opportunities
Professor Ina Fourie, head of the department of information science (DIS) and the inaugural chair of Exxaro Chair in XR Technology said: “Exxaro opens new opportunities for us to excel in industry-related XR research.” She said this is also an opportunity for her department and UP to become global leaders “in the use of XR technology in the mining industry and mining safety. Many other applications and opportunities can follow”.
Said UP vice-chancellor and principal, Professor Tawana Kupe: “We thank Exxaro for their generous contribution over a three-year period and we hope that this will be the start of a long relationship.” UP will educate and train the next generation of developers and researchers with real-world projects unique to XR technology and immersive learning, added Professor Kupe.
His counterpart, Exxaro chief executive officer, Mxolisi Mgojo said: “We are proud to have such a strategic partnership with the University of Pretoria and to be among the mining companies to explore the potential benefits of XR technology as a strategic intervention across its operations.” He also added that: “Together, we are expanding upon the practical capabilities of XR in the South African context while supporting our need for industry to embrace the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution. The possibilities of what we could develop are really exciting.”
As part of the collaboration, Exxaro will work with the Virtual Reality and Interaction Lab (VRI), an initiative of the DIS at UP, as well as the department of mining engineering. The VRI lab applies XR technologies to create interactive user experiences for various applications. The XR technology programme will assist in selecting the most effective XR technology for specific applications. It will then design interactions that can enable intuitive interaction with the virtual environment. It will also offer extensive user testing of proposed solutions to ensure that the solutions address and solve as many challenges as possible.
Among the solutions that will be explored are:
- the application of individual and shared VR
- mobile, tethered and cave setup VR
- communication VR
- tracked and untracked VR space and
- hand tracking and full body tracking.
Said Mgojo: “We are extremely excited about this partnership as part of our drive to support research that overcomes the obstacles associated with the fourth industrial revolution,” He added: “We believe that XR technology has immense applications for dealing with mining-related challenges and that it can optimise the resources of companies like Exxaro.”