A couple of entrepreneurs in Cochrane have partnered up with a company based in France to provide training opportunities to the mining industry using virtual reality (VR) sight devices combined with VR bodysuits.
Next Frontier Corp. – led by CEO Jason Michaud and chief technology officer Jawad El Houssine – is working to sell the mining industry on the idea of using the technology to create virtual scenarios for training employees to work in hostile environments and on virtual mining equipment. The company has been demonstrating the VR devices at tradeshows, schools and mining companies in northeastern Ontario.
“So, basically, we are utilizing virtual reality to simulate training in the mining industry and we can cater to any scenario, recreating it in the 3D environment where you can do it with the headset," Michaud said.
"But we can combine it with haptic suit technologies where you’re able to simulate the whole body experience."
Haptics is described as the ability to provide the sense of touch or feeling without actual physical contact with a real-life subject.
In this case, Next Frontier uses a full body suit – called a Teslasuit – that provides the wearer with the sensation of heat or cold, along with simulating stress and fatigue. It has numerous electrodes that can interact with the wearer’s muscles and skin. The suit is designed to “accelerate” VR training. Michaud added that the suit has nothing to do with Tesla motor cars.
“So if someone was to go on a virtual tour, we can simulate the vibration of riding in a truck, for example; we can simulate rain falling on you, or if someone is touching you and grabbing your arm in VR, or if you’re operating a drill, you will feel the impact of actually hold the drill in virtual reality,” he explained.
“We cater it to make it as realistic as possible for the future of the mining industry."
The Teslasuit company website – teslasuit.io – said the suit can help in such things as safety training by teaching the correct physical course of action in an emergency, such as fighting a fire. The website also said a physical procedure can be taught by repeating the correct action so often that it becomes part of one’s muscle memory.
“On heavy industrial sites, on-the-job injuries are reduced by perfecting technique,” said the website. The suit also has memory modules so that physical actions can be reviewed by experts after the training.
Michaud said Next Frontier provides computer software that interfaces the functions of the bodysuit with the training procedures that are required.
“What we program will translate to the suit itself and send a response to your body,” he said.
“You can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in training costs,” said Michaud, adding that the suit cuts down on the logistics challenges usually involved in training.
“You can avoid the headache, say, of having to send someone to the Northwest Territories to do some training instead of paying a flight and bringing along machinery which can cost and arm and a leg.”
He said up to 16 persons can be trained at one time in Teslasuits to learn new activities and procedures. He added that an additional headset can be used from a remote location or a head office so that company officials can see the training. Michaud said the 3D environment can be custom designed for each mine or training site.
“This kind of technology is used in a lot of industries, such as the aerospace industry. It is also being used for mining and other industries to prevent some injuries,” said technology officer Houssine. “We can simulate the work for the research people and not have accidents happen.”
Along with training, he said the bodysuit can also be applied to rehabilitation.
“Thanks to the suit and the programs we have designed, we can also help people with injuries to get better as soon as possible with this kind of technology, which is exciting.”
Michaud said Next Frontier Corp. is a new merger, a startup partnership involving French and Canadian companies that began just months ago, late in 2018.
“We are as new as the technology, but it is proven technology,” said Michaud. “This is where the future is going.”
This story originally appeared in the Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal, a sister publication of Northern Ontario Business.