Innovation is at the forefront of the mining industry in the 21st century. The demands of a changing world require actors in the mining ecosystem to collaborate to solve the most pressing challenges. South Africa’s University of Pretoria (UP) and Exxaro are doing just that by announcing a partnership that will provide innovative mining technologies.
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The Exxara and University of Pretoria Partnership
Exxaro is one of South Africa’s top five coal producers and is included in the JSE’s top 40 index.
The company operates in both the Limpopo and Mpumalanga regions, the areas of South Africa with the highest concentration of coal resources.
Its Grooteleguk mine is the only one operating in the coal-rich Waterberg region in the country. The company believes in making a positive impact and recognizing mining challenges in the 21st century. It works strategically to overcome these challenges.
Exxaro is partnering with UP to find possible applications of extended reality technology for the mining industry. Extended reality (XR) includes virtual, mixed, and augmented reality technologies. It combines virtual and real environments alongside computer-generated human-machine interactions.
The university’s departments of mining engineering and information science will be working with Exxaro to develop interactive user experiences with the use of VR, AR, and XR technologies. This partnership aims to expand the field’s practical capabilities for the industry along with embracing the benefits of what is termed as the fourth industrial revolution.
Research Being Undertaken by Exxaro and the University of Pretoria
Through this partnership, Exxaro will help select the most promising and effective extended reality technology for mining applications. Intuitive interactions can then be designed within an artificially created environment that will reflect real-world conditions. Users will test the proposed solutions extensively, thereby seeing if they solve the challenges.
Exxaro and the University of Pretoria will explore several solutions that XR can provide. Technologies being explored include methods of full-body tracking, hand tracking, as well as individual VR, mobile VR, and cave VR, and how these can be applied to the industry.
The partnership also aims to provide tools and resources that will teach and inform next-generation researchers and developers working within the field of XR and the mining ecosystem. This includes postgraduate research, industry projects, and student programs.
What Does the Partnership Mean for the Future of Mining?
Exxaro has a commitment to enhancing South Africa’s technological and educational spheres. With this partnership, the company is striving to achieve this and improve the future of the industry by researching key technologies in the XR sphere.
Several challenges exist for mining in the 21st century. This includes worker safety and labor costs, how to find and exploit dwindling and hard-to-reach resources, and how to achieve a more environmentally friendly mining industry. Mining has had issues with being a dangerous activity that has a high environmental cost.
Extended reality technology has the potential to provide tools that improve safety, education, and training by presenting a virtual mining environment where users can visit and interact with machinery without the need to physically be there. This arms workers with tools and knowledge before they even set foot in a hazardous environment. Dynamic, high-fidelity virtual environments can be modeled based on real-life conditions to simulate dangerous situations and test environments.
VR models based on real mines help recreate accidents and provide training on emergency preparedness. Several high-profile accidents that have cost the lives of miners attest to this need, and partnerships such as Exxaro and the University of Pretoria’s are using extended reality technology to solve these urgent issues.
Productivity can also be increased due to the ability to train entire teams in a simulated mine before they physically start work, allowing them to test their skills before they pick up a tool. This also consequently reduces labor costs, making mines more economically viable.
Integrating XR with drone mapping also circumvents the need for workers to manually survey sites, making the process safer, more intuitive, and cost-effective.
Entire models of planned mines can also be used to show local communities their physical and environmental footprint, in line with sustainable planning and development goals and regulations.
The partnership also helps the South African mining industry achieve its contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, specifically no. 9 (industry, innovation, and structure) and no. 8 (decent work and economic growth.) By providing research that makes environmentally friendly mining solutions possible, the partnership also helps to contribute to SDG 13, which is to take urgent action on the causes and impact of climate change.
The Future of the Global Mining Industry
The partnership between Exxaro and the University of Pretoria Is one that will provide exciting opportunities for technological development in the South African mining industry and, by extension, the global mining industry. Using developments in extended reality technology, the partnership aims to provide mining operations that are safer, more cost-effective, with improved exploration and resource exploitation opportunities, as well as making the entire industry more environmentally friendly.
The future of the mining industry is about to become a lot more digital and connected thanks to collaborative partnerships such as this one.
Further Reading and More Information
International Mining (website) Exxaro partners University of Pretoria in cutting edge mining technology research programme. [Online] Available at: https://im-mining.com/2021/09/02/exxaro-partners-university-pretoria-cutting-edge-mining-technology-research-programme/
Exxaro – Homepage. [Online] Available at: https://www.exxaro.com/