One of the most pertinent questions that arose following my recent interview based on spatial modelling in mining with Maptek chairman Peter Johnson was: what’s next?
If 3D modelling is the current gold standard in mining, then where could we be in another 30 years’ time?
Widespread use of 4D modelling and mixed reality technologies, was my answer.
In the bid to keep our social license to operate, spatial modelling technologies are one of the greatest tools the mining industry has to communicate and engage with stakeholders from every walk of life.
They offer the chance to bring projects, from minor plant expansions to mega complexes, to life in a tangible and easy to understand way, and also to play out various scenarios over different timeframes.
All of this is possible today. It’s just not widely applied yet.
I asked Ron Klopfer, CEO of Canada-based Clirio Technologies, to help me elaborate using examples from the company’s Ada Platform…
CL: Tell us about Clirio Technologies’ Ada Platform and its capabilities.
RK: The Ada Platform combines geology, geo-civil and mining engineering data, geomatics, survey and GIS data, geotechnical designs, simulations and CAD, and real-time computer graphics into a mixed-reality environment. Technical experts and other stakeholders can interact in this virtual environment from any angle, at any point in time – past, present or future.
Ada allows viewers to see what was missed in two-dimensional views to accomplish smoother public and community engagement, clearer executive, investor and regulator communication, streamlined project reviews and compelling team orientation, onboarding or training.
Holographic models can be animated to show changes in the terrain and environment over time and be presented up to 1:1 scale to immerse the user in a project from practically anywhere in the world.
Ada is a cloud-based tool that allows for simple drag-and-drop of 3D data for the automated creation of holographic scenes. These scenes can be linked together to create presentations covering a variety of tabletop, photogrammetry, CAD and subsurface views of a project.
In our context, we refer to ‘4D’ as the inclusion of time-based elements, and we can include animations that show the change of data over time. Some examples of this are InSAR or slope inclinometer data that shows a change in site conditions. We can also include animations in the 3D holograms that depict these deltas.
How was Ada developed?
Ada was initially developed as an in-house R&D project by BGC Engineering, as a response to an unmet need for better tools to manage, collaborate and share complex 3D engineering data.
This was initially accomplished by passing data to a team of programmers to create these presentations as custom development projects. It was quickly realised that a data-driven software tool was required to allow engineers to manage their own 3D data as holographic visualisations quickly and easily from their desk. Thus, Ada’s cloud-based software was created in recognition of the need for a repeatable and scalable solution to this process.
In June of this year, the Ada Platform software and development team was spun-off to its own independent company, Clirio Technologies, for the purposes of further development sales and marketing.
Can the models be updated in real time? And what happens if some of the datasets are incomplete or poor quality?
The holographic scenes are designed to be a visualisation extension of our clients existing workflow.
Users can take a snapshot of the data they are working on and quickly create a holographic view of it in a matter of minutes. This data-driven process allows for engineers to manage and create their own holograms as often as they require without having to hand off the data to other specialists.
We are currently testing the capability of adding real-time telematics data to these visualisations (such as IoT sensor data from the field) with companies that provide these systems.
As with any system, the quality of the output is directly related to the quality of the input data. One advantage to viewing data in a true three-dimensional holographic context, is that it can show errors or gaps in data sets that may have been otherwise missed in a 2D representation, allowing engineers to correct these issues before they become critical.
What value can augmented reality technologies bring to different mine modelling applications?
As a technology, augmented reality (in which the holographic visualisations a presented as a part of the user’s environment) has a number of distinct advantages over virtual reality for the participant (in which the user is removed from their actual environment and immersed in a computer-generated one).
Specifically, their comfort level with the technology, their innate ability to move around and interact with the data, their ability to collaborate with each other and the data in a shared space and the ease-of-use of the hardware.
Augmented reality allows people to interact with and control their experience, which facilitates the generation of a deeper understanding of 3D environments and their changes over time. Holographic visualisation enables clearer communication throughout the length of the project, for participants of all backgrounds.
Through AR, participants can:
- View engineering plans as a 3D model from any angle and at any point in time.
- Clearly communicate the effects of design decisions at each stage of the active life of a project, and beyond.
- Visualise material consolidation and fluid simulations in 3D.
- Give stakeholders a better understanding of how man-made geology influences landscape and groundwater conditions.
- Allow experts a new way to interact with data.
- Improve stakeholder understanding of the future by immersing them in a virtual tour of the site.
- Offer a more natural point of view to understand design decisions before moving tons of earth. Translate datasets into immersive landscapes and 3D visualisation presentations with minimal editing or setup, and
- Allow multiple users to view 3D visualisations together, from around the world.
With our Remote Collaboration features, we can now assist our clients in avoiding unnecessary travel to sites and meetings by facilitating the coordination of remote, virtual, technical project reviews using holographic visualisation on either iOS or HoloLens devices.
Participants view a common digital twin of the project site, highlight areas of interest with placed pins and verbally communicate via the viewing hardware. They can accomplish project review sessions safely and on schedule without compromising the outcome.
How can platforms like Ada help with stakeholder engagement?
Stakeholder engagement and buy-in has become a critical aspect of mine project planning and approval. Failure to address this can lead to costly delays or even cancelations of projects.
It is necessary to provide information to stakeholder groups in a way that allows them to understand the scope and implications of the project and allows them to approach the project on the basis of information and knowledge over misinformation and emotion.
The Ada Platform allows for the presentation of complex engineering data in an immersive and easily understandable context by using our built-in capabilities of understanding data and concepts as three-dimensional objects.
It also allows for participants to visit a site where it is logistically impossible to do so, or also at a time in the future to depict the successful reclamation of a project when it is complete. This creates a level of understanding, confidence and peace of mind for stakeholders that is not possible via traditional presentation techniques such as videos and slideshows.
This has been successfully demonstrated in our work on the public engagement process for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC). It is in charge of the C$900 million-dollar Giant Mine Remediation Project; an abandoned gold mine within the boundaries of Yellowknife, NWT.
In 1999, the federal government took ownership of the mine and the responsibility to manage 237,000t of arsenic trioxide stored as a by-product of the gold mining operations which is currently stored in the now closed, underground mine.
A variety of data sets were combined, including LiDAR, GIS, CAD and underground measurements to create holographic presentations used in the community engagement process.
First, three-dimensional ‘table-top’ models were used to set the scene for participants, followed by a comprehensive underground view of the former mining operation showing the stopes which store the arsenic trioxide and the engineering solution that has been proposed to contain it. This was followed by a depiction of a rising water table and its potential to interact with the arsenic due to the frozen ground.
Finally, participants were transported to the year 2040, and a view of the reclaimed site, complete with restored river and vegetation.
Community members, government officials and other stakeholder were all able to share the same common understanding of the challenges and solutions related to this project. They were able to view inaccessible underground areas with both safety and visually clarity. Stakeholders were able to visualise all aspects of the project, and formulate questions and conclusions based on facts and data.
CIRNAC was able to conduct a meaningful public consultation process in an efficient way that helped avoid unnecessary costs and delays, moving towards approval of the project and mitigation of the risk to the community.
Where do you see mine modelling heading next?
Our current efforts are focused on evolving and innovating in this space to continue to add features that we recognise will be critical to our users moving forward.
Having created a solid platform that allows for high-quality holographic visualisations of engineering data, we are turning our attention to the next phase of development which includes the ability to measure, dissect and annotate the data in the holographic space.
This will lead to a future in which 3D holographic visualisations will be used by engineers to facilitate their designs in the augmented reality environment as an integral part of their workflow, interacting with real-time data from the field, and direct collaborative input from their colleagues and other stakeholders.
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