By Ian Ross
You do not grasp the concept, until you have used it. That is the message operators of five virtual reality labs (VRL) from across Ontario were spinning to Sudbury industry executives, architects, city planners, engineers and researchers at a virtual reality workshop held at Laurentian University in May.
Experts from three Ontario colleges, the National Research Council and Laurentian’s own Centre for Integrated Monitoring Technology (CIMTEC) were on hand to showcase their 3D imagery wares and demonstrate the technology’s potential in mineral exploration, urban planning, factory design, nuclear plant refit projects, airport traffic modelling, sense-of-touch training simulators and anti-terrorist scenarios.
“There’s no question we’re on the verge of a VRL revolution,” says Andrew Dasys, CIMTEC’s startup director of Laurentian’s $5-million lab and Canada’s first exploratorium dedicated to the mining and exploration industry.
Frustrated by the indifference of Canadian mining companies who have yet to accept virtual reality technology, CIMTEC took their equipment out to the Canadian Institute of Mining trade show in Vancouver last month to expose the format to mining executives and make some converts out of skeptics.
They returned with a number of contacts anxious to come to Sudbury, says Dasys, who estimates about 250 people cycled through a scaled-down version of their facility.
“We had the CEO of a major mining corporation call the chairman of the board and say “You have to see this,” and he showed up.”
“Until people see it, they don’t understand it. We can speak until we’re blue in the face and it just doesn’t come across.”
Since the virtual reality lab opened last September, more than 400 people have toured the Sudbury facility for demonstrations, but only a handful of companies, including Falconbridge Ltd., GoldCorp. Ltd., Placer Dome and Ontario Power Generation have truly embraced the technology.
At $5,000 a day to rent the facility, the expenditure more than pays for itself, in being able to gather people together in one room to view volumes of exploration data displayed on a 3D projection screen, Dasys says.
“I’ve seen vice-presidents of companies go through six months of discussions in 15 minutes,” says Dasys. “You call anyone and they will tell you it was an amazing experience. They walk out and they are just blown away. It’s a new level of understanding.”
One disciple of the technology has been Falconbridge’s senior vice-president of Canadian mine operations, Warren Holmes, who also sits as chairperson of MIRARCO, the mining research wing at Laurentian.
Holmes called CIMTEC’s demonstrations in Vancouver, a “stellar success.” “It stole the convention quite frankly,” with mining executives “lining up to see what was going on,” Holmes says.
Falconbridge’s exploration group from their Kidd Creek operation in Timmins came away from one three-day planning session at the Sudbury virtual reality lab “absolutely thrilled and excited” in being able to examine their GO-CAD model of the Kidd area as a totally immersive experience, Holmes says.
By being able to lay out their properties in 3D slices, they collectively identified 12 new exploration targets.
“This is a tool that when you see it action it allows the right people in the right room to see the data collected together, and it puts you in the middle of it,” says Ron Purcell, executive director of Laurentian (University) Enterprises and one of the workshop’s hosts. He views it as a tool to build relationships between business and research institutes.