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Key questions about the metaverse in mining: Q&A with GlobalData thematic analyst

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David Kurtz is Director of Research & Analysis for Construction, Mining and Energy at GlobalData, and is responsible for the company's published data and insights on these sectors. He joined the company from Datamonitor in 2013, where he spent 10 years based in London leading the Energy and Utilities business unit, before moving to Sydney in 2004 to head the Asia Pacific operations.

Lara Virrey: How can the metaverse help mining companies meet some of the sector’s challenges today?   

David Kurtz: Safety is a key challenge in mining, and the metaverse can help through a combination of remote monitoring of on-site risks and immersive training for new, inexperienced hires, which can directly reduce on-site injuries or fatalities. Productivity can also be improved by using devices such as smart glasses and headsets and connecting remote experts with on-site technicians, which became particularly valuable during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to limit personnel on site.

Lara Virrey: What are the most promising applications of the metaverse in the mining industry?   

David Kurtz: The most common way in which the metaverse, and AR specifically, can support the safety of mine workers is through immersive training and maintenance support. AR communication tools can act as a go-between for on- and off-site staff and reduce risks as instructors provide real-time and visual guidance to trainees. This addresses both the health and safety challenge of mining, as well as that of communication.

The use of immersive AR training can support the effective training of new hires and improve delivery timelines and the overall productivity of mine-sites. Beyond training, the remote communication that AR enables also helps in the maintenance and repair of mine equipment as on-site technicians can get instructions from remote experts through smart glasses that support hands-free operation.

Lara Virrey: Who are the leading mining companies in the metaverse right now, and why?   

David Kurtz: BHP is an example of an early adopter of VR and AR using mixed-reality devices in its office in Perth, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, to communicate with on-site workers at mine sites in Australia. BHP’s experts from Perth are able to provide quick assistance to on-site technicians in the case of critical breakdown and assist when performing complex procedures – all through live point-of-view video calls and visualisation offered by AR wearables.

Similarly, Rio Tinto was able to operate effectively during the pandemic at its Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia. Together with drones and mine pit cameras, the company used video headsets and smart glasses to conduct inspections of tailings facilities and equipment, while ensuring social distancing and complying with travel restrictions.

Swedish miner, Boliden, is part of the Swedish Mining Innovation program that uses AR to support on-site mine workers from remote experts through remote operation systems. Boliden is also part of the FARMIN project that has developed AR models that visualise geological data to aid mine exploration. AR smart glasses allow users to interact with the 3D geological models and make decisions for optimal mine efficiency and planning.

Lara Virrey: What are the barriers to implementation of the metaverse in the mining industry?

David Kurtz: As with all technologies, there are cost implications and for mines that are nearing the end of their lives, it may not be justifiable, as well as the need to train staff on the new technologies.

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.     

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence uses proprietary data, research, and analysis to provide a forward-looking perspective on the key themes that will shape the future of the world’s largest industries and the organisations within them.