UniSA students will be able to use virtual and augmented reality to experience what it’s like to be an on-site geologist, thanks to a new immersive virtual reality (VR) education and outreach program the University is developing.
The project, Learning through Immersive Virtual Environments for Minerals and Mining (LIVE-MM), will create interactive virtual reality experiences to allow students to “become a geologist for a day”, using the power of VR to provide an insider’s view of geoscience in action and serve as a launching pad for future careers.
The program is designed to help to attract the best and brightest to the Australian minerals industry.
A team from UniSA, led by Program Director of Environmental Science and Geospatial Science Associate Professor Tom Raimondo, will develop the platform over the next two years.
Assoc Prof Raimondo says there will be great synergy between the project and the recently announced $215m MinEx Cooperative Research Centre dedicated to developing a more sustainable and productive minerals industry for Australia.
With $100,000 funding support from the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Tomorrow’s Professionals Program, the focus of Project LIVE-MM will be to capture key field sites and activities that convey core minerals industry skills and capabilities – from developing fundamental geological knowledge and its application, to innovative research studies and their use in revealing the subsurface, to demonstrations of new technologies and how they are employed in authentic scenarios.
Project LIVE-MM will extend UniSA’s successful virtual reality initiative, Project LIVE (www.projectLIVE.org.au), a cross-disciplinary program that uses immersive visualisation technologies to create engaging experiential learning exercises, and Assoc Prof Raimondo says the experiences developed for the new project will be at the cutting edge of the field.
“People will be able to interact with 3D models to achieve a particular goal, progressively unpacking the information provided to make sense of it,” he says.
“So, it will function like a series of mini games or tasks within the virtual environment, rather than a passive learning experience that is a bit like a documentary.”
Highly instructive field sites are often situated in inaccessible or remote locations where training visits are impractical or cost-prohibitive, and recent advances in virtual and augmented reality have meant these sites can be captured and shared in a way that immerses students, researchers and others in the field environment.
Digital visualisation is achieved through a suite of technologies including Remotely Piloted Aircraft (drone) surveying, 3D photogrammetry, gigapixel photography, terrestrial laser scanning (LiDAR), 360-degree panoramic photos and videos, augmented reality apps and VR headsets.
“These modules will give students a critical first impression of the industry that is both fun and stimulating and interactive, and the program will provide early exposure to digitally-enriched learning and technologies that are already being used in professional practice,” Assoc Prof Raimondo says.