Dan Audet
Director General
Moon Patrol VR
View from the Top

Virtual Reality for a Full Mining Experience

By Alejandro Ehrenberg | Mon, 09/28/2020 - 15:15

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business?

A: Access to sites is restricted but half the things we do, we can do them remotely because we work with data. We also do virtual property tours from our offices, which is an advantage in this environment. In fact, our service has become even more relevant because we can provide interested parties with access to mining operations who would not be able to access them otherwise. There is an increase in the number of people who used to visit mines and are now interested in our services. COVID-19 has tilted the culture in favor of doing things remotely and our services are ideal for that.

Q: What are the commercial and technical uses of virtual reality (VR) for miners?

A: VR is the use of computer technology for creating a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Commercial uses include virtual property tours. There are also technical applications. For example, with Fortuna Mining, we undertook a project where we took all their mining data and essentially created a video game where the user can interact with all the data. The user can toggle drill holes on and off, explore resource grades, see histograms of the drill holes, experience different intercepts and assess the quality of the drill holes. Additionally, the user can reach the surface and explore how all the infrastructure on the ground relates to the mineral resource. Furthermore, users can put on their VR goggles and connect with other goggles around the world in real time. This is one of the most exciting technical applications of VR. It is like an ordinary conference call, except that you can see the data, talk to each other and interact with the data. The call’s participants step into a Leapfrog geological model and experience it deeply and communally. Technical consultants, engineers and investors benefit. It is a technology that will have a major impact in the short term.

Q: What is your primary focus looking into the future, the commercial or the technical aspect? 

A: Our primary target group are mining technical teams, including engineers and geologists. VR lets them quickly communicate and look at data through a data tour where everyone can see the same thing at the same time. The technology is mature, but we are making it more relevant to the mining community as an off-the-shelf solution. In the coming years, users will be able to see more and more. For example, if you are using Leapfrog, there are many technical things you can do with data there, but you need to export the data to view it in VR. However, we will soon be able to do more within the VR world without having to resort to other programs. We are continually adding features with the goal of making VR more useful, and eventually indispensable, to the industry.

Q: What does return on investment look like for one of your VR solutions?

A: The fewer people you can put on an airplane, the better. That was also true before COVID-19. Having a virtual meeting with people living in different cities will reduce expenses. Just a couple of meetings a year will pay for the investment. Goggles and headsets are getting better and cheaper every year. Even now, a simple Oculus headset is inexpensive and delivers great results. A small mining company can afford a set of 10 goggles for its technical team and its executives. Nevertheless, VR takes virtual meetings to a new level because it allows participants to access data very thoroughly and they can import the data themselves as they receive it. They can export whatever they like in real time and put it directly into the VR world.

Q: How does augmented reality (AR) add value to your clients in the mining industry?

A: AR is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated information. The most common example of AR is Pokemon Go. You use a device like a smartphone to see the Pokemon, but it is not really there. In a mining scenario, we use AR to enhance marketing materials. For instance, we have 360-degree tours that are built into phones. Also, we can make a magazine cover come to life by looking at it through a smartphone. It is an interesting way to reach out to investors because it is an exciting technology for conveying information.

Q: What is an example of your work in Mexico?

A: At Los Filos in Guerrero, we did a 360 tour with a 360 camera for Leagold. We spent one day on site and it was an excellent experience. Also, we took data and made an animation. They used those assets frequently. The company was eventually bought by Equinox Gold, but we still host those products on our website for anyone to see, as they are fine examples of our work.

Moon Patrol does VR, AR, 360 tours, film, animation, graphic design, technical illustration and mine photography.

Alejandro Ehrenberg Alejandro Ehrenberg Journalist and Industry Analyst