Metaverse in Mining: Digital Possibilities for Safer, Efficient Industry

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The metaverse is no longer just a futuristic concept but a practical tool that the mining industry can use today. Mining companies can utilize its elements to develop the skills necessary for an increasingly digital industry.

It could have an important role in connecting both remote and on-site operations effectively and offering an engaging way to upskill employees across all mining operations.

In this article, we will explore how the metaverse in the mining industry works, its applications, challenges, and much more.

What is Metaverse in the Mining Industry?

The metaverse is a term used to describe a fully immersive and interconnected virtual world where users can interact with each other and the environment in real-time.

In mining, the metaverse can be defined as the integration of virtual and physical operations to:

  • Create a digital twin of a mine site, 
  • Enabling real-time monitoring and control of equipment and personnel.
  • Provide a comprehensive view of the mine site,
  • Improve situational awareness,
  • increase productivity and efficiency,
  • Enhance safety measures.

The metaverse also offers the potential for immersive training and simulation, allowing workers to gain experience in a safe and controlled virtual environment.

With the use of metaverse technology, mining companies can make more informed decisions, reduce downtime, and optimize their operations, ultimately leading to increased profitability and sustainability. 

Applications of the Metaverse in the Mining Industry

In the pursuit of enhancing productivity and safety, mining companies are turning to advanced technologies such as augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), two crucial technologies driving Metaverse’s development, and 5G to boost productivity and safety. 

AR/VR systems can train workers, provide real-time information, and guide maintenance staff to fix issues quickly through AR glasses. They can also be linked to 3D digital twins of underground mines.

Unlike VR, an entirely computer-generated simulation, AR enhances the existing reality with computer-generated layers. This technology enables the mining sector to address significant challenges by providing distance support and allowing headquarter-based experts to collaborate remotely with site operators.

Chilean startup Metaverso Limitada developed the Minverso platform, allowing mining professionals to explore mines and simulate equipment repairs remotely or in themed showrooms.

Private wireless networks such as 5G are also being utilized for mission-critical communications, remote vehicle teleoperation, and monitoring using drones and high-definition cameras.

Nokia deployed an industrial-grade 5G private wireless network in Colombia to handle mission-critical communications, remote teleoperation of vehicles, and inspection and monitoring using drones and high-definition cameras.

Russian palladium and nickel company Nornickel also tested a private LTE/5G in cooperation with Nokia, Ericsson, MTS, Huawei, and Megaphone at the deepest mine in Eurasia, Skalisty.

Video source: YouTube/DixonValve

Challenges of Implementing the Metaverse in Sustainable Mining

Mining is a high-risk industry that needs to mitigate accidents, improve safety records, and reduce costs while maintaining environmental responsibility.

The metaverse presents a new avenue to build a safer and more efficient mining industry, but several challenges must be addressed to ensure its effective implementation.

Limitations of VR and AR Technologies

One of the main challenges to implementing the metaverse in mining is the current limitations in the capabilities and reliability of VR and AR technologies.

These technologies need to become more advanced to create accurate and useful digital twins of mines and provide the situational awareness necessary for improved safety.

High Cost of Implementation

The investment required for the latest wireless infrastructure, high-end VR and AR hardware, and software can be significant.

Miners must weigh the potential benefits of these technologies against the costs to determine if they are feasible for their operations.

Training and Adoption Difficulties

The mining industry has a diverse workforce; not all workers may be familiar with the latest technology. Some may even resist the changes that come with implementing new tools.

To ensure the successful adoption and usage of these tools, mining companies must invest in comprehensive and tailored training and change management programs specifically designed to meet the needs of their employees. 

Network Infrastructure Needs

The metaverse requires a robust network infrastructure to support it, which can be a significant challenge in underground mining operations.

Miners must invest in private wireless networks to provide the necessary connectivity and reliability for these technologies to function correctly.

Data Security and Legal & Regulatory Compliance

The mining industry is bound by several regulations, including environmental, safety, and data protection laws, and non-compliance can result in severe legal penalties.

Adequate cybersecurity measures must be implemented to safeguard their systems and data from cyber threats such as malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks.

Video source: YouTube/GlobalData Trends & Insight

Environmental and Social Impacts

VR and AR can enhance mining safety and productivity but pose environmental and social challenges. For example, the high energy needed to power the equipment and software creates a large carbon footprint.

Using renewable energy sources or energy-efficient hardware can be used to mitigate the environmental impact. However, mining companies must prioritize sustainability and responsible mining practices. 

Maintenance Skills Shortage

The mining industry suffers from a skills crisis, making locating and retaining the right talent difficult.

Companies must invest in creating an inclusive and open culture with solid career paths to attract and retain maintenance talent in a sector perceived as unattractive.

How to Empower Mining Talent through the Metaverse

The mining industry is on the cusp of major changes as advances in automation technology and AI, the drive for decarbonization, and geopolitical forces reshape its future.

Moving to self-sufficient, adaptable, and distributed operations will lead to a safer and more cost-effective business landscape.

Still, it also entails a substantial shift in the requisite competencies to effectively uphold emerging digitally-oriented operational frameworks.

Unfortunately, the most sought-after skills may be in short supply, so mining companies must adopt new talent acquisition and development strategies to thrive in a digitalized, decarbonized world.

Therefore, mining companies must find ways to create human connections between remote workers and on-site assets and employees they support. 

For example, analysts at the multinational professional technology services company Accenture expect that the number of remote mining workers in Australia will approach 60% within the next decade and will be even higher by 2040. 

To meet these challenges, mining companies can leverage the metaverse to build the talent required for a rapidly approaching digitally enhanced industry.

To support the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) agenda, there are growing requirements to upskill both on-site and remote workers in digital fluency. Maintenance teams must also develop greater digital fluency to move from traditional mechanical work to managing autonomous maintenance systems.

These changes will require mining companies to adopt new talent acquisition and development strategies to meet the demands of a rapidly changing industry.

Metaverse in the Mining Industry: Key Takeaways

Mining companies can unlock a world of digital possibilities by embracing the metaverse. The metaverse offers personalized, automated capabilities to everyone in the mining industry, from the miners on-site to the executives in the boardroom. 

Integrating the metaverse into mining operations is a journey, much like any digital transformation. A good starting point is to create a view of the future workforce, including the necessary skillsets and capabilities. 

Starting small and leveraging existing technologies to develop digital skills can result in quick wins, paving the way for future scaling.

From a technology perspective, companies can pilot new VR/AR use cases using the increased data capacity and security of 5G. Digital twins can be used to improve predictive and prescriptive mining solutions, helping remote office staff better support onsite colleagues.

Mining companies have various options to access the metaverse, and the path they choose will depend on their specific business priorities and goals. With the right approach, mining companies can unlock the full potential of the metaverse and transform their operations for the better.

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Neil Sahota
Neil Sahota (萨冠军) is an IBM Master Inventor, United Nations (UN) Artificial Intelligence (AI) Advisor, author of the best-seller Own the AI Revolution and sought-after speaker. With 20+ years of business experience, Neil works to inspire clients and business partners to foster innovation and develop next generation products/solutions powered by AI.