BY CRAIG GILBERT
Laurentian University and two mining giants have teamed up for a world first. Laurentian?s Mining Innovation, Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation (MIRARCO) along with Goldcorp Inc. and Placer Dome Canada has established the first virtual reality laboratory (VRL) in an active mining camp in Red Lake.
Currently there is one VRL at Laurentian, and there is a VRL in Toronto at the Design Exchange in the old Toronto Stock Exchange building on Bay Street.
?It?s nice to see an initiative come from the north and go even farther north: it?s a good news story for Laurentian and for Sudbury,? said Chris Bradbrook, Goldcorp?s vice-president, corporate development.
Placer Dome (Canada) president and CEO George Pirie said his company is proud to be part of the Red Lake project.
?Red Lake is a natural location to try this, as geographical distances can provide economic constraints to hinder access to such technology,? he said. ?An on-site VRL is the perfect solution.?
Andrew Dasys is the startup director. He described Placer Dome and GoldCorp as ?pioneers? in new mining technology. Virtual reality laboratories offer high-end projection and viewing technologies, generally using a large screen ?immersive 3D? format.
MIRARCO designed and manages Laurentian?s $1.25 million VRL, the first virtual reality facility designed to meet the needs of mining and mineral exploration.
Dasys said research and improved engineering of the VRL, such as better projectors, screens and support hardware, means the new lab at Red Lake will cost significantly less than Laurentian?s, which was commissioned in September 2001.
The Red Lake lab should be commissioned early in the new year.
The VRL consists of a semi-circular screen, three projectors and a set of high-end 3D glasses for each participant.
?These aren?t the run of the mill kind you find on the back of a cereal box,? he said. ?The ore body jumps out at you in the room.?
Bradbrook said GoldCorp has used 3D visualizations on the computer screen before, but the VRL ?reaches everyone.?
Above all else, Dasys said, the VRL is a superb communication tool. It can help not only in getting engineers and geologists on the same page, but in communication between the mining giants and junior exploration companies, over 30 of which are riding the gold rush in Red Lake right now, and with the companies? respective executives.
Dasys said when junior companies use the VRL model to mould their data, it makes it easier for GoldCorp, for example, to analyze findings.
Dasys said there is a VRL in Toronto that can be used for teleconferencing with management executives. The board could have a meeting with managers on site and be looking at the same visualization of the ore body in real time with Red Lake personnel.
Interdepartmental communication will also be enhanced and made more efficient with the VRL.
MIRARCO, Dasys said, benefits from the news getting out about the VRL technology and its practical applications in mining, and the ties to industry are valuable. Laurentian researchers benefit from the lab?s use because it proves the work they are doing ends up in the real world, not just in a report.
Dasys said MIRARCO and its partners are working on a funding structure for another global first: a VRL network of four mining sites in Northern Ontario. It would be called the Northern Ontario Visualization Network
(NAVNET) and would operate out of Red Lake, Timmins, the Thunder Bay area and Kirkland Lake and would
operate on the same principle as the Toronto teleconference illustration above.
MIRARCO is also working on a five-dimensional model of a mine. The 3D model would be coloured coded for time and profitability (the other two dimensions), another tool that would be very beneficial to the industry.