SEATTLE — To solve problems faced by the mining industry, many mining countries have turned to a surprising technology: virtual reality. This November, Tshimologong, a South African company focused on digital innovations, will host a hackathon for the mining industry. Hackathons are collaborative events in which computer programmers congregate to create specific new programs. The Mine D Hackathon in South Africa has the goal of creating computer programs that will improve the health and safety of mining operations in the country.
Though there is debate about whether mining is a lucrative utilization of resources or problematic specialization, there is no doubt that mining is ubiquitous throughout the developing world. Of the 56 “mining countries,” 51 are developing, including Kazakhstan, Chile and South Africa.
Developing countries that mine often have higher GDPs than other countries in their regions. The mining industry provides millions of jobs worldwide and is one of the largest job-supplying fields in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, the successes of the mining industry are accompanied by a laundry list of health and safety risks.
Between 1900 and 2016, nearly 12,800 individuals lost their lives in mining-related accidents. Mesothelioma and other lung disorders became more common in South Africa after the development of the mining industry, and poor ventilation and the presence of silica dust in mines has been linked to cases of tuberculosis in mine workers.
In order to make mining safer, countries dependent on mining operations have turned to technological solutions. The EU has created a project known as EMIMSAR, which focuses on the use of augmented reality and virtual reality to improve mining techniques. In South Africa, the University of Pretoria boasts its own virtual reality research at its Kumba Virtual Reality Centre for Mine Design.
Though it may seem unconventional, virtual reality can be applied effectively to the mining industry. Augmented reality allows miners to be trained before they ever enter a mine, and virtual reality allows them to practice various disaster scenarios safely. Mixed reality can also help within the mine. For example, augmented reality may allow a miner to view data output from a machine without ever having to physically examine the machine, saving time and keeping the miner out of a potentially dangerous situation. Safety efforts seem to be working: the last large-scale mine disaster occurred more than seven years ago.
The Mine D Hackathon in South Africa hopes to go even further in its development of mine safety technology. During the three day hackathon, programmers will not only attempt to create mixed reality programs to aid the management of mines and mine equipment, but also new devices that can help automate mine operations.
Mining is an important global investment opportunity for many developing nations, but it is a dangerous endeavor for those it employs. The health and safety of individuals should not be considered less important than the economic success of a nation, and mining countries must act accordingly to protect those doing the mining. By hosting the Mine D Hackathon, South Africa is not only protecting an industry, but also its people.
– Mary Efird