Exxaro establishes UP mining technology research programme chair

3rd September 2021 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

Mining major Exxaro Resources has established the Exxaro Chair in Extended Reality (XR) Technology with the University of Pretoria (UP) to develop a framework on how XR technology can be used to address mining industry challenges.

This investment in technological advancement will allow for constant research towards a safer, economical and more environmentally sensitive form of mining, the company notes.

XR technology refers to all real-and-virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology, including augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and virtual reality (VR).

Exxaro established the research chair as part of its commitment to enhancing South Africa’s educational and technological spheres.

Exxaro will also work with the Virtual Reality and Interaction (VRI) Lab, an initiative of the Department of Information Science at UP, as well as the Department of Mining Engineering. The VRI lab applies XR technologies to create interactive user experiences for various applications.

The Exxaro Chair in XR Technology programme will assist in selecting the most effective XR technology for specific applications, and then design interactions that can enable intuitive interaction with the virtual environment. It will also offer extensive user testing of proposed solutions to ensure the solutions address and solve as many of the challenges as possible.

Among the solutions that will be explored are the application of individual and shared VR; mobile, tethered and cave setup VR; communication VR; and tracked and untracked VR space; as well as hand tracking and full-body tracking.

"Exxaro opens new opportunities for us to excel in industry related XR research. They offer us an opportunity to become international leaders in the use of XR technology in the mining industry and mining safety. Many other applications and opportunities can follow," UP Department of Information Science head and inaugural Exxaro Chair in XR Technology Professor Ina Fourie says.

"The [UP Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT)] faculty is honoured to work with Exxaro in taking the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) forward, especially SDG 9 Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, as well as to strengthen SDG 8, which focuses on decent work and economic growth, both being what South Africa desperately needs," says UP EBIT dean Professor Sunil Maharaj.

“We are proud to have such a strategic partnership with [UP] and to be among the mining companies to explore the potential benefits of XR Technology as a strategic intervention across its operations,” says Exxaro CEO Mxolisi Mgojo.

“Together, we are expanding upon the practical capabilities of XR in the South African context, while supporting our need for industry to embrace the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The possibilities of what we could develop are exciting.

“We are extremely excited for this partnership as part of our drive to support research that overcomes the obstacles associated with the 4IR. We believe XR technology has immense applications for dealing with mining-related challenges and that can optimise the resources of companies like Exxaro,” he says.