Digging for Digital Transformation Using AR/VR & Wearables: The Sustainable Future of Mining

Despite advances in technology, mining operations today are fundamentally the same as they were half a century ago. Faced with increasing demand, diminished ore grades, less accessible deposits, and public pressure to be more environmentally and socially responsible, mining companies must develop new techniques by adopting emerging technologies to evolve their industry.


Trends and Pain Points in Mining

Bad Reputation

Mining has a less than stellar reputation when it comes to social and environmental impact. Despite technical advances and modern equipment, the mining industry as a whole has increased water consumption and is trailed by a legacy of poorly rehabilitated mines that have left behind chronic environmental problems like acid drainage. Mining companies can improve their image and build trust if they increase supply chain transparency and implement environmentally-sound practices that can stand up to regulatory pressure and the scrutiny of an increasingly aware consumer market. Firms must push innovation and R&D to find solutions (advancing techniques like biomining) to reduce their environmental footprint and mitigate the risk of large-scale incidents.

Material Resources

As the global population rises, so too does demand for minerals and metals. The depletion of near surface resources has pushed mining companies to look for lower-grade ores at much greater depths and to consider mine development in less politically stable areas. Extensive investment is required prior to mineral extraction from difficult-to-access deposits, and though there are innovative mining methods like block caving, high profitability must be assured before capital-intensive projects can proceed for the industry is highly risk-averse. Facing tight profit margins and buffeted by social and regulatory pressure, mining companies that streamline operations and develop new methods of mineral and metal extraction and processing will be able to meet demand and control costs.

Siloed Operations

The operations of a typical mining company are geographically dispersed. Valuable information is lost due to these operational silos, obstructing a company’s ability to coordinate and collaborate. Individual mines often operate with a high degree of independence and varied corporate structures limit centralized management, making it difficult to introduce disruptive technologies across an organization.

Safety & Labor Scarcity

Mines are busy, noisy and dangerous working environments. Workplace injuries are underreported globally and deaths not uncommon. Entering a mine can expose a miner to dust, gases, explosions, high heat, flooding, falling rocks, and cave-ins. Mines with the highest safety standards are not immune to these risks, but with proper precautions and investment in safety solutions and training, safety can be significantly improved. Compounding issues, the mining industry is suffering from a labor shortage. A culture of innovation, a renewed focus on safety, and the implementation of new technologies is key to recruitment and training of new workers.


Current State of Mining Technology

The mining industry is one of the least digitized in the world, with leadership that up until recent years hesitated to invest in any tech if a quantifiable, short-term return could not be guaranteed. Today, proven technologies that have been successfully implemented in other industries do not present the same level of risk. Drones and robots are being successfully introduced to mining operations to eliminate dangerous and monotonous jobs, and companies are investing in mine connectivity like leaky feeders or LoRA technologies to extend a signal deep underground. Some forward-thinking companies like Rio Tinto have begun to pursue digital transformation on a grand scale. Part of Rio Tinto’s ‘Mine of the Future’ program, for example, involves a massive investment to automate a mine’s supply chain from pit to port including an extensive rail network.


Potential for AR/VR and Wearables

In addition to drones and robots, technologies like augmented and virtual reality and wearable devices will optimize the productivity and safety of the mining workforce. Immersive and wearable technologies, whether worn within the mine or in a control center a continent away, can help users interact with remote colleagues and visualize and analyze data generated from sensors deep below the surface of the earth. Wearables can enhance real-time visibility into a mine’s operations, allowing for more effective and informed decision making; while simulating mine environments and interacting with asset data in AR/VR have a wide range of training and other applications.

Applications of Immersive and Wearable Tech in Mining

Exploration of New Mine Sites

Today, drones and UAVs are routinely used to study an area’s geology, producing 3D maps for general inspection. Drones themselves can even be operated via smart glasses (ex. Epson). The data gathered above and below ground forms the basis for digital models in virtual or mixed reality that can be used to perform safety inspections and maintenance assessments, for planning construction and environmental mitigation efforts, and to monitor inventory.

Before drones, workers typically performed surveying tasks by mounting high scaffolds, exposing themselves to great risk. Moreover, the information wasn’t always accurate. Drone mapping is cheaper, faster and more precise; and the information gathered – when put into AR/VR – allows for intuitive visualization and comprehension of the results of exploration, development drilling, geological models, and topography studies at scale. AR/VR also make for better remote collaboration and understanding among stakeholders such as surveyors, mining engineers and equipment operators, which speeds up decision making.

Few discoveries make it beyond feasibility studies to become an actual mining site, so it’s important to keep costs down and build an accurate model in a short period of time to get a comprehensive picture of the potential mine. A lot of time and money can be saved by not having to visit a mine site on foot, which eliminates risks associated with traversing difficult terrain in addition to travel expenses.

Development and Planning

AR/VR is a powerful visualization tool, making data easily accessible, engaging and meaningful to potential investors and other stakeholders. High-fidelity imaging of geological information, mine plans, geolocated borehole data, etc. can be modeled in AR/VR for easy, interactive analysis. Immersive simulations can also be used to show local community members the footprint of a planned mine throughout its development and operation, and how mine closure and post-mine closure activities will affect the area.

AR/VR, increasingly used by construction contractors to plan mines and discover design flaws before production begins, produces interactive 3D models that can be used throughout the life of a mine and integrated with an operation’s other digital assets for maintenance, training, etc. A full digital twin of a mine – uniting all mine assets via spatial data and other real-time information – allows for live monitoring and management of its vehicles, ore deposits, human workers, and machines; however, the use of digital twin technology requires a high level of digitization of the entire mining operation.

Safety

Future advances in automation may largely remove humans from the dangers of the most hazardous mines, but today’s miners are still at risk and require the most effective tools available for communication, health, and safety. Workers entering a mine today can be equipped with a range of wearable sensors and sensor-embedded protective equipment (PPE) that track their health and environment. Any device brought into a mine must be highly durable and able to perform in hazardous, wet environments as per industry regulations. Wearables might alert workers via sound, light or vibration to issues such as exposure to dangerous gases, seismic anomalies, and proximity to moving or malfunctioning equipment or vehicles. Currently in use are sensor-enabled safety helmets (ex. Jannetec), vests (Lightflex), shirts (Mitsufuji) and wristbands (Fatigue Science). These keep workers connected and alert to danger within and without their bodies, and in most cases can communicate with equipment and vehicles on site.

Wearable devices that track biometric information embedded with RFID technology can track a worker’s location, even detect falls and physical distress, which is key for lone workers. Sensors can track assets and people in real time, generating data that can be later analyzed to improve operations and the mine site itself. AR smart glasses (with appropriate safety ratings, of course) present another means of notifying workers about safety threats and even providing heads-up, hands-free safety protocols and directions.

There are now early-warning drowsiness detection systems like Optalert and other wearables designed to monitor a mining vehicle operator’s alertness in order to reduce fatigue-related incidents. AR glasses can eliminate an operator’s blind spots and minimize peripheral distractions like the complicated control panels inside the vehicle. Should an accident occur, someone wearing AR glasses could livestream the situation to an expert or supervisor, helping to treat the fallen worker before first responders arrive. AR/VR can also be used to train workers for hazardous environments, allowing them to gain experience without assuming the risk of practicing in a live environment.

Operations

Proper servicing and maintenance of mining equipment and vehicles can help avoid potentially catastrophic mechanical breakdowns in a mine. Of course, this is difficult with a shortage of highly-trained workers, but new fleets of connected mining machinery provide real-time diagnostic data allowing for predictive maintenance. A worker wearing AR glasses, even without a clear understanding of standard operating procedures or familiarity with the piece of equipment in question, can perform maintenance and repair with the assistance of a remote expert or vendor, remaining heads-up and hands-free the whole time. This reduces reliance on key personnel without impairing equipment output.

Mine suppliers like Caterpillar and Atlas Copco now market their machines and vehicles with VR training simulations and use the same tech to provide AR assistance for maintenance and repair. Miners can practice tasks in VR, tasks like performing an inspection on a Haulpak vehicle in a Mobile Maintenance Repair Workshop or performing a 3D scan of a physical pump for visualization; and then perform the same tasks in real life with prompts in a pair of smart glasses. Better maintenance, repair and overhaul practices with the aid of AR/VR will result in less equipment downtime, higher productivity, lower maintenance costs and, most importantly, improved safety for human operators.

Training

Virtual reality is an incredibly effective and efficient training tool especially for industrial workers because it allows trainees to gain experience without visiting a mine in person. Restrictive permit policies at some mines mean that employees can’t enter the mine without training. VR is the closest thing to doing the job in real life, and research from Stanford University and other institutions has found that learners recall more when using virtual teaching methods than with traditional methods. When it comes to high-risk tasks and hazard awareness, there’s no way to simulate a realistic mine rescue situation other than in VR. In VR, the user can be burned, fall from a height or even be electrocuted without real consequences. The medium also offers measurable data to assess a user’s performance. For instance, in a virtual inspection of a mine, the trainer can observe not only the user’s movements but also her gaze to see what draws her attention first.


Conclusion

The ability to walk, climb and interact in an environment using AR/VR will make for easier discovery and better planning of mines, faster innovation and greater productivity, increased safety and higher quality, all of which can improve industry recruitment. The changing nature of mining, including increasing digitization and automation, should draw a new generation of workers—tech-savvy individuals traditionally attracted to more high-profile industries as well as talent that hadn’t considered mining because they didn’t want to work underground or in remote areas. Pushing into frontier mining areas and planning new mines with new extraction and processing techniques (with a lighter human touch) will further the incorporation of new technologies; allowing miners to face less challenging working conditions and making mining as a whole a more sophisticated sector. Who knows? Tech companies that rely on mined materials to build their products might even begin their own mining operations in the future.

 

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and confirmed speakers, available on the conference website.

 

 

 

9 to 5G: Prime Time for Next Gen Connectivity in Enterprise

Enterprises are looking to 5G in order to adopt more sophisticated AR/VR and wearable technology solutions for a greater variety of use cases. What is 5G? A network revolution that’s currently in its early stages, 5G (the new mobile standard that will succeed 4G) is an evolving constellation of technologies expected to unlock the ability to use wearable technologies (and other emerging tech) for a much wider range of applications in the workplace. Providers are beginning to deploy 5G around the world to support the expanded mobile connectivity and capacity requirements of the Internet of Things, including immersive experiences, machine learning, Big Data, etc. Enterprise decision makers tasked with identifying, testing and implementing wearable solutions can now begin to consider the capabilities that will be at their disposal once the speed, flexibility, and reliability of 5G becomes available. The speed of deployment of 5G-based mobile networks depends on the timing of the massive investments needed to build out the infrastructure. Nevertheless, now is the time to consider the future applications of immersive and wearable technologies and how 5G will enable the transformation of your enterprise.  

5G promises a solution to the many network and performance challenges holding back Industry 4.0 (current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies). Using a range of new technologies, 5G permits the exploitation of a wider band of spectrum, including the high frequency millimeter wave spectrum in between microwave and infrared waves that has never before been used for mobile communications. A 5G network is equipped to provide greater bandwidth capacity, increased throughput (high data rate), improved reliability, while greatly reducing latency. At full deployment, 5G is touted to provide peak speeds 600 times faster than average 4G speeds and 10 times faster than standard fiber broadband, with the capacity to service 1,000 times the number of devices per square meter than 4G and a potential latency of just one millisecond.

The mass deployment of connected devices in the enterprise, including smart machines, robots, sensors, AR glasses, etc. is well underway. The reliable and seamless communication between machines/sensors and humans that the use cases of Industry 4.0 require, however, is currently impossible or attainable only via inefficient, inconsistent and very costly means. Intelligently-managed 5G networks will sustain the proliferation of devices with higher network demand that are putting 4G under great strain, meeting the growing complexities of enterprise IoT environments and facilitating the rising interconnectivity of public and private infrastructure assets. Faster than 4G LTE, more flexible than fiber, more secure than WiFi, and more dynamic than lower power wide area (LPWAN) tech like Sigfox and LoRa, 5G networks will be able to integrate those technologies and in some cases replace them completely.

An important feature of 5G is the ability to design customizable network connectivity solutions through a feature called network slicing. Network slicing is a layered network virtualization that creates independent silos or slices of connectivity optimized for a particular use case. Multiple networks are created on the same physical infrastructure and optimized for efficiency, delivering distinct bandwidth, capacity, availability and security characteristics according to how the particular virtual network will be used. If an enterprise builds out its own private network, it can configure the requirements and parameters of each network slice to support particular services or business segments for greater efficiency and security. For mobile network operators and telecom vendors, 5G connectivity could be packaged and marketed using a network as a service (NaaS) model.

With network slicing, you can partition a secure “slice” that would reserve independent network capacity for the connectivity needs of a particular function. For example, sensors in a factory relaying small packets of data at relatively long intervals require minimal bandwidth but do require a network with the capacity to accommodate a large volume of sensors. An enterprise network may host relatively few mobile devices but if there are data-heavy applications, then greater bandwidth and different security capabilities are required. Take robots performing high-priority, critical tasks; today, there is no alternative to achieve the reliable bandwidth they need to process information at high speeds save for expensive fiber connections. A mobile industrial robot tethered to a cable connection on the factory floor cannot reach its full potential. 5G network customization will allow enterprises to quickly adapt to changing needs (e.g. rapid and cost-efficient reconfigurations of the factory floor); it will also encourage enterprises to take a more active role in managing their networks, with many assuming greater control over enterprise network infrastructure that was previously externally or passively managed.

5G is a cloud-native technology that will unlock the transformative potential of AR/VR and wearables via edge or fog computing and exponentially multiply the potency of wearables in enterprise. With edge computing, data generation takes place at the source of the data, which in the case of IoT could be a connected machine, sensor or embedded device, and then instead of relaying the data to a distant cloud computing facility where there would be a delay in analyzing and processing the data, the data is processed and analyzed instantaneously in a smaller facility closer to the network edge. 5G enables this accelerated capacity for (less) remote computing to occur in real time.

From a hardware perspective, low latency edge computing reduces the need to install high performance processors into the device, which frees up hardware design and battery options. Bulky, energy-hungry headsets may become a thing of the past, as 5G and edge computing ease the ergonomic and performance challenges of today’s devices, including form factor, comfort, processing power, and battery life. This hardware transformation will be accompanied by a revolution in user experience. 5G should also bring down the cost of high quality AR/VR devices, enabling wider adoption and the practical consideration of more ambitious technological integrations.  

5G’s low latency is the key feature that will drive the transformation of AR/VR and wearables. Latency above a certain threshold disrupts fluid virtual reality experiences and any lag in overlaying information in augmented reality is intolerable for collaborating with others or performing precision or time-sensitive tasks. Ideally, virtual reality should be so vivid, responsive and interactive that the user cannot distinguish the virtual from the real world. High latency destroys the illusion of VR and can cause VR sickness (dizziness and nausea), and is evident when motion in the virtual environment doesn’t sync up with the user’s movements.

Today, high quality, high resolution VR experiences must be physically tethered to high-performance computers due to insufficient battery and local processing capacity. Only with the rollout of 5G will immersive technologies reach their potential: Practical, fully mobile, truly wearable headsets that immerse users in vivid, interactive scenarios that would otherwise be impossible or prohibitively expensive to recreate in real life (e.g. simulating a utility repair in inclement weather). 5G will unleash more ambitious and ubiquitous enterprise applications like remote collaboration in the same virtual space that feels as natural as an in-person meeting and applications making use of real-time haptic feedback and unrestricted mobility.

5G is well-positioned to support the rising demands of the connected workplace over the next decade, even if full-capacity deployment is likely to be inconsistent due to uncertain use cases and costs. In the 5G world, the connected worker will collaborate and operate wherever she’s needed, leveraging seamless communication with robots and machines, vehicles, sensors and other humans to get the job done. It will be exciting to see what new use cases enterprises come up with as 5G is rolled out. 

 

Image source: MWRF

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and early confirmed speakers, to come on the conference website.

Avoid the Headache: IT Security in the Age of Wearables and AR/VR

As the modern industrial workplace becomes increasingly connected by IoT-enabled devices, including AR/VR glasses and headsets, wearables, robotics and smart machinery, the enterprise grows more vulnerable to potentially devastating cyberattacks, privacy intrusions and IP theft. Enterprise wearables promise to advance workplace safety, efficiency and profitability, but they also present novel dangers that can have disturbing consequences. A network breach can have devastating financial, legal and reputational consequences for not just the enterprise and its clients but also the general public in sectors like power generation and oil and gas. A changing threat landscape makes it difficult to evaluate risk, nonetheless the decision facing enterprise leaders is when, not if, they should adopt IoT technologies into their operations. Enterprises that are too cautious and hesitant in pursuing digital transformation will fall behind their competitors. Now and in the future, the success of integration and responsible management of connected technologies will depend on enterprise IT leadership to implement and govern appropriate security measures.

At EWTS 2018 this past October in Austin, a common thread among the speakers was the importance of involving internal enterprise stakeholders responsible for safety and security as early in the pilot process as possible. It’s challenging enough for innovation teams to communicate the value of investing in AR, VR and wearables to corporate leadership; it’s next to impossible if the proof of concept exposes the company to unnecessary and unmitigated risks.

The strategy recommended by current end users is to have agility and imagination when developing a PoC or pilot project while taking a more conservative and measured approach to mitigating security and safety risks. Safety, security and device management experts are needed to judge the viability of any wearable solution under consideration. In general, established corporate cultures are not very receptive to new, relatively untested technology and expanded cybersecurity risks. Corporate financial leadership may see the deployment of wearables as a drain on company resources, while the IT team regards it as a threat to network security and workers see it as a threat to their own privacy and job security. In order to successfully deploy a wearable solution all parties must be convinced that the benefits outweigh their concerns.

On the EWTS 2018 stage, Steve Labudzinski, an R&D specialist from Con Edison, described the difficulty of equipping his field workers with the proper tools while also satisfying security measures, lamenting that it is not practical for workers to carry four different mission-critical wearable devices and also have to carry four corresponding mobile phones. He appealed to the audience for advice on getting all devices to communicate securely on one common platform, a software solution to solve a hardware problem. If the value of an application is to give instant feedback and present relevant, real-time information to workers, an integrated platform for all network devices greatly transforms the utility and potency of the wearable technology.

Introducing wearables into the workplace and achieving interoperability across platforms is like a double-edged sword. Companies that would generate value from the visualization of data and models have to bridge formerly separate silos of information, integrating wearable-incompatible formats like PDFs and paper into a digitally-integrated platform. The unification of previously disconnected and inaccessible information sources for use across the enterprise can create a wealth of value for collaborative and analytical purposes; however, enterprise-wide integration of digital resources also represents a larger target for cyber-attackers. The proliferation of IoT devices like wearable technologies multiplies the nodes of entry that bad actors might attempt to exploit. End users, corporate leadership, and partners must be accountable for upholding security standards.

From the EWTS 2018 stage, Jeff Lind of Caterpillar talked about the importance of evaluating potential partners and the development and management of long-term relations with them, noting “all partners must be trusted to protect client data. Trust, but verify.” Diligence in mitigating security risks and guarding against potential breaches includes auditing the practices of partners and vendors. A wearable deployment is only as secure as the integrity of the chain of custody. Absent government regulation and cybersecurity standardization (steps have been taken in Europe with GDPR), it is the enterprise and solution providers that need to work out standards for implementing security and privacy safeguards.

In some cases, security policy is governed by industry regulations that require strict compliance. At EWTS 2018, Chris Comfort, the Innovation Technology Manager of the Nuclear Division of Southern Corporation, shared his eight-month-long journey to get the greenlight for company-wide deployment of AR wearables. The restrictions were particularly inflexible because the devices would be deployed near the company’s nuclear power assets. Image- and data-collecting AR smart glasses attracted extraordinary scrutiny and the pilot had to be conducted offline and offsite. Comfort had to solidify support for “two-way video communication on a business network with confidential information within a highly regulated industry,” seeking access to a highly privileged network.

A pattern of stakeholder engagement and solution iteration was key to Comfort’s success. The constraints of elevated security concerns in a highly competitive corporate environment are not easily overcome. To get approval to introduce the RealWear HMT-1 smart glasses, Comfort had to convince influential members of the organization of the devices’ value and utility so they could in turn communicate the value to others and advocate on behalf of his project.

Comfort observed that the eight months he spent seeking approval can be considered a fast track, with much of that time spent working with vendors to align software designs and IT with Southern’s security protocols. This would not have been possible without ongoing consultation with internal allies, engagement with internal critics, and support from software vendors. Collaboration with the company’s IT department converted some IT leaders into enthusiastic advocates who helped shape adequate security protocols and the software features that Comfort would implement in collaboration with his vendors.

Innovation leaders should seek feedback from all interested parties and their varying expertise and concerns in order to better collaborate on producing a viable and effective solution. The push and pull to satisfy enterprise security standards can frustrate the advancement of even the most promising projects. “If you want to talk barriers, you can just talk about security all day. It’s a thing of nightmares,” remarked Walmart’s Steven Lewis in October. Steven was describing the difficulty of advancing an efficient technology solution not functionally hamstrung by the protocols of internal security groups. In anticipation of this hand-wringing, security considerations should be intrinsic to the design of a solution from the earliest stages of a project because a wearable pilot will not go forward without buy-in from internal security groups.  

IT’s traditional role in maintaining the digital infrastructure of a business has changed as IT has become a key profit driver and the operational backbone of many companies. The long-term success of businesses today hinges on a proactive approach to security with the adoption of any new technology. Cyber criminals will meet innovation with innovation as IT infrastructures grow more robust. To protect truly connected workplaces, IT priorities must receive the same timely attention and budget flexibility as the most critical business decision. The ongoing advancement of Industry 4.0 technologies and the rollout of 5G present immediate opportunities that any organization must be ready to approach with enthusiasm and caution.

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and early confirmed speakers, to come on the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE), the world’s #1 AR+VR conference and expo, returns to Santa Clara, CA May 29-31, 2019. Join us for the biggest AWE yet and help celebrate the show’s 10th Anniversary! Apply to speak and/or exhibit at AWE 2019on the event website.