MGE associate professor Angelina Anani wants her students to actually experience a mine as often as possible. So Anani acquired virtual reality equipment – headsets and software that navigates high-resolution scans of the University of Arizona’s Henry G. “Hank” Grundstedt San Xavier Mining Laboratory and other nearby mines – and created digital twins of the mines. Students can navigate these virtual versions of the mines in 360 degrees and can also integrate enhancements using tools such as artificial intelligence to simulate various conditions and events.
“Mining is a hands-on industry. It requires a person to be there to understand how the rock is responding to us extracting minerals from the ground,” she said. “It's difficult to teach it with a traditional PowerPoint approach and showing pictures.”
MGE professor of practice Victor Tenorio also used the digital twin in his classes this past year. He sees it as good preparation for students who will use this, or similar technology in their careers. When a digital twin is connected with equipment at a mine, even autonomous equipment, a remote operator can use that data to make decisions about the physical mine, including adjusting equipment and worker tasks, and even anticipate safety concerns. The operator can also make changes in the virtual environment that translate to the actual mine.
“A digital twin is not just for seeing from a distance, but for interacting with the mine and achieving the goals of production,” he said. “This comes with many ways of seeing things – not just a camera at the other side, but a digital mine or plant environment I can walk through with virtual reality or augmented reality for enhancing some of the elements. It gives the opportunity to look at the goals and objectives.”
Anani and Tenorio plan to expand digital twin usage during the fall 2023 semester and beyond, while additional MGE instructors bring the technology to their classes.
"Instead of using your imagination to picture how a mine looks like, it can actually show you how it looks," said Anani in an interview with AZPM. "And when you go into the mining industry you are not completely lost because you can visualize what we are talking about."