Colorado School of Mines, a public research University based in Golden Colorado, is the top ranked learning and research institution for mineral and mining engineering in the world. Starting in 2018, the Department of Mining Engineering contracted WorldViz to provide a sophisticated multi-user virtual reality solution in order to further explore the benefits of VR and gaming in earth sciences. Since being installed last year, the Mines VR lab has received over 450 visitors and lab members have already produced 5 peer-reviewed publications related to their work in VR.
A key focus of the research being conducted in the Mines VR lab involves improving mine safety through immersive simulation. Researchers and lab assistants at Mines have leveraged the Vizard VR engine’s real-time rendering support for scanned 3D models such as LiDAR scans to recreate real world mining environments and then build sophisticated user studies within those simulated environments. VR is being used at Mines to improve our understanding and safety practices around some of the most challenging cognitive aspects of navigation in underground environments including identifying orientation, reduced visibility, decision making tasks, limited numbers of landmarks etc. Since underground navigation is a key safety aspect of all mining operations, the work being done at Mines is helping to improve working conditions and safety practices around the world.
The fully immersive and transportive qualities of VR make it ideally suited to this type of perceptual research. The Mines researchers are able to produce and experiment in nearly perfect digital recreations of real world environments, allowing them to expose a high number of research subjects to environments and tasks that may otherwise be too dangerous or costly to conduct research in. Going a step further, Mines is also able to create tasks for multiple participants that allow for further research of group problem solving dynamics as a number of interactive VR users can participate in the same simulation simultaneously. The WorldViz PPT tracking system being used to track the users in the virtual environment provides millimeter precision at 1:1 scale for the users so they virtually reach out and physically touch the other participant in the simulation. This tracking solution also produces extremely high-quality data allowing for maximum accuracy and reproducibility of their results.
Research Project Example
Use of Virtual Reality in Underground Roof Fall Hazard Assessment and Risk Mitigation The objective of this research is to investigate how various agents (e.g. landmarks, individual differences, and individual or collaborative problem-solving) used in underground environments impacts the performance of wayfinding. A was developed that included various combinations of landmarks at different locations. The simulation was designed to ask various participants to locate the exit of a mine in an emergency situation with limited or no prior knowledge of their environment. Participants were able to physically walk in the virtual environment and were able to see each other if there were multiple users.