Virtual Blast Training

AngloAmerican Uses Virtual Reality And Serious Gaming To Safely Train Employees.

By Mark S. Kuhar

AngloAmerican knows that production is key but safety always comes first. If it can get its crews to mark off their blasting patterns accurately, drill straight and time the explosives in the correct sequence, the blast will advance deeper, straighter, with pinpoint precision and – more importantly – safer. This, however, is easier said than done.

Providing effective blast training is difficult on multiple fronts. Taking trainees 900, 1,500 or 3,000 ft. underground takes time. It’s not only dark, dusty and damp in the mines, but also deafening and dangerous.

To tackle this problem, Anglo approached Pretoria, South Africa-based STS3D, with more than 15 years of experience in building safety training solutions for the mining industry.

The leading-edge virtual reality solution STS3D built is exponentially improving the process of training mine crews. This visionary approach has set the stage for AngloAmerican’s custom-built solution: the Amandelbult Training Complex Virtual Reality Stope, a world-first that recreates the situations miners encounter at real blast walls. With several VR training programs, an immersive VR Cube, seven VR Blast Walls, and a VR Robotics Simulator, STS3D planned the experience to meet Anglo’s needs.

Although designing and constructing the hardware, building the virtual stope and coding the functions presented the STS3D team with a challenge, the key hurdle was how to track the users in real-time within this multi-dimensional virtual stope. This required breaking new ground, so STS3D, being new to motion capture, sought out the best in the industry for assistance.

Motion-capture experts Vicon became a partner in the process. The company quickly allayed concerns that cameras might not be able to track if markers were occluded by users. When Vicon convinced STS3D that their solution could track the subject accurately as long as a marker was visible to a single camera it became apparent that this is the solution that would work. The simplicity of plugging the Vicon sample data into the Unity game engine increased the technology’s appeal.

AngloAmerican trains 1,500 people per year and must be able to operate the system on site without constant external support. Since a single instructor – without any prior experience in motion capture or virtual reality – only needs a one-button start to run the blast simulation, the Vicon system more than met the criterion of simplicity.

Since the Vicon system can track up to five people at once it enables team learning and makes the training of large numbers of trainees possible, a must in the mining environment. This ability to track multiple objects through space provides very realistic training, preparing users for real conditions in the field.

During entry examination, for example, miners must decide whether a zone is safe for operations. If they get it wrong, they get a realistic simulation of what could happen. A big loud bang and sudden darkness simulate a potential rock fall on the spot where they are standing.

The VR Stope is a life-sized serious game. It has two modes: training and assessment. In training mode users are instructed step-by-step how and where to mark off the panel using a special virtual paint brush. This builds muscle memory and motor skills which will be recalled once the trainee is out in the actual environment. The system provides immediate visual feedback on correct or wrong actions. The added ability to undo and retry allows for fast, effective feedback and learning.

Once the user has completed marking and timing, they experience the full impact of VR’s immersiveness. When the detonation is set off right in front of them, they see the firing sequence and fragmentation of the rock, driving home the effect of what they’ve just done. It also enables them to inspect the quality of the blast first-hand again and again, in real time or in slow motion, forward or in reverse. The miners can now really understand how and why the correct blasting procedure works best.

To read the full case study, go to