Improve Mine Productivity with Augmented and Virtual Reality Technologies

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November 12, 2019

Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies have been around for a while. The potential for these technologies are endless. Mining companies have embraced VR/AR for some time and are always looking to do more. Currently these technologies are, for example, reducing equipment maintenance costs and offering their personnel a safe way to train.

AR and VR technologies are being used widely at both the consumer and commercial levels. Companies like Microsoft and Google are developing their own VR/AR technologies and are competing for their market share. The VR/AR industry is predicted to be worth more than $150 billion worldwide by 2020.

Mining industries utilized VR/AR quite early, as the potential for training is ground breaking. Using these technologies for training not only saves companies money but has been proven that it can be a better way to train employees.

Mining operators have realised the potential to address many issues with VR/AR technology, with improvements in productivity, safety and machinery uptime to name just a few. For mining companies, AR offers training in the real world with helpful overlays. VR replaces the real world with a simulated training environment.

EMIMSAR, an EU funded project, is a system that allows miners to be able to view AR versions of complex equipment on helmet mounted displays. Using sensors to record and analyse temperatures, rates of acceleration and sample noise from sprockets. This allows staff to assess heavy duty components like gears and chains. This data is then given to a knowledge based maintenance system. When combined with background data on components, it creates real time virtual visualisations on the machinery which can be viewed by other miners while working on the same machine.

The EMIMSAR AR system has been developed and used to great success by Germany’s largest coal mining firm RAG, which used it for maintenance planning, loaders and belt conveyors.

Kumba Virtual Reality Centre, which opened in August 2015 has incorporated a 3D stereoscopic theatre and a 3D, 360° cylinder theatre. The 3D simulation creates true to detail mining conditions and creates scenarios such as underground rock falls, that is truly immersive experience for the user.

Rio Tinto has now partnered with New York based Bravo Media to custom design the Oculus Rift experience. It features a computer generated environment that allows the user to fly above the coast of Canada, before taking you for a tour down the Diavik diamond mine.

Grey Properjohn from Australian company Vix Technology wrote in a newsletter "The ability to mix virtual content with reality will provide countless opportunities to improve operational safety and efficiency, as well as bringing the corporate offices even closer to the operations on the ground by connecting people in ways never imagined before,"

He goes on to write "Imagine standing in an underground development heading and becoming visually aware of all the adjacent headings, slopes and declines in the immediate vicinity, or being able to virtualise the trends in ground features like fault-zones or stress-zones… Extend this to drilling from underground and you can virtually eliminate the potential to inadvertently intersect other existing openings.”

"The assessment of mining an open pit through underground workings takes on new meaning if you could actually 'see' the workings. Even from an office environment, users can be immersed in the underground operation tracking the locations of all people and assets within the mine in real-time."

These are just a few examples of how mining companies are using the VR/AR technology. Many more projects are in development that are sure to excite.

Connect with iTRA to discuss your next project.

Extended Reality – An Industry Perspective

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September 19, 2019

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
- Bill Gates

We were delighted to present the “Industry Perspective” at the inaugural XR.Edu Summit held at Hale School this week.  iTRA’s Director, Mark Broome,showcased our experience and innovations to the room of educators giving them a perspective on the business cases for Extended Reality in the real world.  We spoke with a number of people afterwards who recognised the value of giving students exposure to #VR #AR #XR and giving them projects with tangible applications. 

Mark predicted in the next few years, as the hardware cost reduces and business cases become clearer, we will see an exponential rise in the use of XR applications across all industries.  He rammed home his point with the example of mobile phones to highlight the adoption rate of technology when the elements align:

As early developers iTRA is fortunate to have long term clients that recognise the benefits of including VR training in their suite of tools to improve the skills of their workforce. We have been developing XR applications since 2017 and continue to identify areas within our clients’ businesses where tangible improvements can be made with VR or AR applications.

Our experience shows that VR is without doubt an ideal training tool for immersion in high risk work environments and a cost-effective alternative for all kinds of training for physical activity, such as use of fire extinguishers, driving, identification of objects, etc.

AR has enormous potential for improving efficiencies in operations and this has been proven by major companies who have adopted the technology, such as DHL, Toll, and Boeing. Our AR Tagging App is just one application, but AR in Inspection & Maintenance, Operations Training, Remote Collaboration and Working Guides are all areas where AR will save both time and money.

The XR.Edu Summit presentation was well received by the audience who were looking for inspiration to produce graduates who are ready for the real world – in an extended reality space.

Please contact us for more information on the use of XR applications within your organisation.

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Navy Demonstrates The Spectrum Hunter Using Augmented Reality Technology

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September 3, 2019

You would think that having state of the art technology on the battlefield would give you a significant advantage? Well think again, as the more tech you use, the more likely your crew will be detected from the RF used to communicate. There is a saying that always rings true in the armed forces. “If your transmitting, you can be found”.

While on duty, armed forces are often equipped with many communication devices such as GPS, mobile devices, SOS beacon, hand-held radios, or Wi-Fi, with these devices emitting their own radio frequency traceable back to the sender. This means that a lot of personnel participating in active battles will have to turn off their devices to avoid detection as its important to be invisible to the enemy.

Currently to ensure transmitting devices are secure, soldiers use a handheld tablet weighing over 4 Kilograms. The device is equipped with a handheld radio to scan for and identify their own frequencies. While this device does come under the banner of portable, it’s still very heavy and can be a pain to use. Not only that, it forces the operator to take his/her eyes off the battlefield in order to scan, which can be risky in a live battle.

With the downfalls of the current technology, a Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic team, is currently developing and testing a new transmission detection system that utilizes Augmented Reality technology. It projects visuals over the user’s real-world environment providing an accurate hands free way of detecting their own RF waves. This new system is dubbed ‘The Spectrum Hunter’

Operators have a few ways to use and communicate with this device, such as voice recognition technology, and can interpret physical hand gestures. This allows the user to easily locate and deactivate RF transmissions, but at the same time have an active eye on the field looking for danger.

In an article for Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic Public Affairs, Sinclair says “The Spectrum Hunter system under development is hands-free. As the user packs a similar-but-smaller geolocator receiver in a backpack and wears a headset inside a helmet that allows them to ‘see’ images of RF waves on an augmented reality screen superimposed over heavy sunglasses,” and also adds “The helmet is fitted with a sunshade so the equipment operates outdoors.”

NIWC Atlantic Acting Executive Director Peter C. Reddy adds.“The sky is the limit for potential uses for Spectrum Hunter.” and “Augmented reality can enable an operator to more quickly and easily locate the source; this is a paradigm shift toward capabilities of the future.”

In the future, the Navy hopes to build on and expand the use of its Spectrum Hunter. In time it is hoped that this technology will be used to detect the enemies RF waves as well. “Our team is initially focusing on detecting handheld radios and will expand the scope later to detect cell phones and other devices,” Sinclair explains. “In the future, we plan to modify it to identify RF waves emitting from enemy forces.”

The prototype of The Spectrum Hunter was showcased last July at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. During this exercise, experts from more than 35 government agencies and industries were able to brainstorm potential insights on how they see this project and where it can go.

Connect with iTRA to discuss your next project.

The AR office space with Magic Leap One

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August 27, 2019

Augmented Reality has been around for a while now, with there being lots of new uses for this technology, from mockup workplaces to state of the art simulations. It surely is time to utilize this technology in an office environment. Using the Magic Leap One with its CNN app, this combination can allow you to setup an AR space, anywhere, anytime.

Magic Leap One has been on the market for about a year now. Surprisingly this device hasn’t really hit the mainstream, at least not yet. One thing is for sure, every office could use a bit of livening up with some cool AR products. Magic Leap one is a viable tool for the average white-collar office worker.

AR Workspaces Are the Future

The Magic Leap One offers an easy to use truly immersive experience, using wearable AR technology. It’s easy to see how tech like this can enhance your everyday experience of the world around you. Using this technology in the office can improve productivity just by making the most mundane tasks more enjoyable.

Generally an office space will consist of a whole lot of monitors, mice, keyboards and whiteboards enabling workers to multitask various activities. Now think about donning a headset and having everything you need at your fingertips at all times. Sure, it seems pretty unfamiliar to put something on your head and view the world around you in an altered state. But if you were to really think about it, it makes sense, as you can see exactly what is needed at any time using AR technology. This saves workers time and increases productivity.

The Magic Leap can be used with other users easily. One of its best features is its ability to put AR holograms in your vision that look pretty realistic. Unlike VR, which closes you off from the world, AR lets you remain engaged with real people and places. Also, although increasing numbers of white-collar workers are working remotely, the working world is still dominated by people in office spaces.

Magic Leap works best with a high speed internet connection, public wifi such as cafes lack the internet gusto needed. Also noted is that the headset gives off some heat in operation, but as long as your office is air conditioned this will not affect comfort in use. The Magic Leap also comes with a shoulder strap which is very useful when using the device for long periods of time.

Apps to Use Within Your AR Desktop Setup

The most important thing to consider when setting up a virtual office with the Magic Leap One, is figuring out which apps make the experience the best it possibly can be. Some apps that work well together are: the Cheddar news video streaming app, Clock app, Wallpaper app via Screens app, Gallery app, Avatar Chat and of course Helio (the AR web browser). When you put all these apps together you get a truly immersive and fun workspace.

Another useful feature of the Magic Leap One is the ability to force a particular screen to "follow" you wherever you go. The following functionality is in the menu of most Magic Leap apps and can be initialized by clicking on the front-facing bumper.

With these apps working together, the experience is deep and surprisingly non-distracting. An AR environment that can turn a normal, dull working space into a colorful center of activity.

If we want to talk about drawbacks, the main one would be its limited battery life, a common problem shared by all mobile devices. In an AR office setup battery life won't last much longer than 3 hours. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it's a good idea to take a break after a few hours. The Control device consumes much less power if you're not constantly using it, so it requires much fewer recharges. While on the subject of battery life, it can be inconvenient to have to open the main menu and navigate to the battery icon, just to find out how much power the device has left. Once the Magic Leap drops to 25% power left you will be shown a warning of low battery life.

Is it worth it?

The Magic Leap AR office setup may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for someone with a boring job or limited work space, this might just be the setup. It’s easy to see co-working spaces offering the Magic Leap One as an optional menu item, allowing visitors to create their own virtual space among unaffiliated workers. Because of the relatively opaque effect of the AR panels and the ability to plug a pair of normal headphones into the device, it’s easy to create a bubble of AR constructs amid a crowd of fellow co-working space users.

People are getting seasoned to the idea of wearing a headset, You won't necessarily get weird looks by wearing the Magic Leap One in a public setting, though you still might get the occasion look of “what’s that thing on your head?”. People really are now ready for the AR future.

Connect with iTRA to discuss your next project.

Introduction of iTRA’s App, “Tager”

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August 16, 2019

iTRA are in the development stage of a new App named “Tager” which allows the user to electronically tag items (hence the name). Currently, development is targeting a process to support and enhance the electronic PTW system and also as a potential replacement of QR codes.

The App can be used on any (intrinsically safe) mobile device, with Tag entries directly visible to the process controller / Permit Authority.

The App essentially works on item and environment recognition. Once the designated item is identified, the user applies the App (tap of a screen) with that “Tag” transferred directly to a database or control system.

Whilst the existing Permit to Work system remains essentially unchanged, Tager would add an additional layer of control. A Permit Authority, using a device, applies the Tag to the process, plant or equipment, linked to relevant supporting documentation. This Tag can only be applied and removed at the PTW site, not remotely.

The electronic Tag interfaces with the existing PTW but also locks out the process, plant or equipment.  The process / plant / equipment cannot be re energised until the electronic Tag is removed by the Permit Authority.

Tager may also be used to enhance or replace the more traditional QR code. Tager would electronically interface with existing processes and not only provide direct visible access to information imbedded in a QR code but overcomes a significant QR Code weakness - longevity of the Code in harsh environments.

Early days, but the results are promising.

Connect with iTRA to discuss your next project.

Virtual Reality and e-Learning

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July 9, 2019

More and more we are seeing new uses for virtual and augmented reality, but this technology has been around for quite a few years in some form. Virtual reality is the term used to describe an immersive experience through a computer generated environment which doesn’t actually exist. Our senses give us the perception of how we view the world around us. Everything we know about reality comes from what we have learnt through our senses. 

Virtual reality uses various technologies to create an all encompassing simulation of an environment, which can yield great results for learning and development. VR has been used with great results in the healthcare, science, research and training areas.

The use of virtual reality can be traced back to the mid 1800s. Charles Wheatstone researched the idea that the brain is processing two, two dimensional images to create depth of view, so we can perceive the world in three dimensions. The research concluded that viewing two images through a stereoscope provided a sense of immersion and depth.

Augmented reality on the other hand does not create a virtual world, but rather imposes holograms on the users environment. The term augmented reality came about in the 1990’s, with Thomas Caudel using the term to describe the head mounted displays that electricians wore whilst undertaking complex assembly work. Many new AR apps are being released, which are mixing computer generated images with the real life environment. AR Google Maps is a good example of what can be achieved for apps of this kind.

For Learning purposes, VR can be used to mimic the environment the student will be working in. This means the student can interact, manipulate objects or carry out a series of tasks, for the purpose of training and gaining experience. For example a mockup of a workplace.

Education is an area that has great applications and opportunities for virtual and augmented reality. Learning is conducted much more efficiently, is more engaging for the user and can be a fun experience too. Primarily these technologies have been seen in the gaming industry, but studies have shown using VR/AR in the training realm has significant benefits.

Virtual reality enables the student to enter a 360 degree video shot or immerse themselves in a 3D environment. A great example of this technology is the VR training for marine biologists. They can enter into the natural environment of the ocean all without stepping foot near a boat or the coast. The lecturer will activate a series of scenarios and wearing virtual reality glasses, the students can experience the actual environment. Virtual learning environments are also created in online education where students can send, create and manage coursework, as well as study digital material.

The benefits and drawbacks of using VR and AR in eLearning

Over the last few years, VR has really taken center stage as a great innovation in the world of learning and eLearning. The delivery of this sort of training will have an upfront cost (from purchasing VR headsets and Smartphones for example). 

The Benefits of Virtual Reality

Realistic Scenarios 

The nature of virtual reality means that trainers can enhance learning content and create a remarkably interactive learning experience.

Mistakes 

With virtual reality technology it does not matter if the student were to make a mistake, it’s just a part of the learning process. In certain training situations such as nursing for example, it would be impractical not to mention dangerous, for a student nurse or doctor to train on a real patient. With VR, trainers can replicate a real life scenario, but the trainee is safe knowing that they cannot harm a ‘virtual’ patient.

Suitable for different learning styles 

This type of learning can really help people who benefit from a more tactile style of learning and who struggle with the theory side.

Resource Saving 

Setting up training in a traditional training environment can be costly and take up a lot of room. VR offers trainees a safer environment, which can also use less floor space than a full sized mocked up environment. This space can also be converted to be utilized in another way while training is not in progress.

Innovative and Enjoyable 

Elearning specialists are always looking for cutting edge ways to deliver their training and using virtual and augmented reality is making the whole learning experience more enjoyable and immersive. It can be used in many different scenarios, from customer service to teaching, healthcare and even engineering.

Drawbacks of Virtual Reality

Integration

For the moment, it is quite difficult to convert all learning types to virtual and augmented reality, as it requires a lot of resources to convert and test VR/AR products. For this reason, careful consideration is required when choosing which courses to convert and where this technology will have the most benefit.

Costly 

Even though there are virtual reality devices to suit all budgets, investing in VR for large scale training is a real wallet drain, particularly when the training needs to be delivered to many students or employees.

Training Locations 

With traditional eLearning, a student can learn quite effectively and quietly sitting at a desk. With VR the trainee will need more room to function, so there is no risk of falling over desks or bumping into chairs. Due to this an employer or training provider will need to provide suitable space for the trainee and the VR equipment.

eLearning into the future

The future of eLearning is evolving and set to advance further, with VR and AR applications bringing two technologies that will enable this to happen. These technologies can facilitate the learning process in various ways, particularly in industries which involve more complex and/or high risk practices.

Connect with iTRA to discuss your next project.

iTRA Spatial Mapping Tags

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June 19, 2019

Place persistent AR markers in the real environment and share them across devices for collaboration. No ugly QR or AR stickers needed. The app recognises your environment and loads previously created tags from cloud.

Applications made with this technology connect the physical world with digital assets and will change how we live and work. The possibilities are endless, tags can show real-time data from SCADA or IoT systems too.

Watch this space, more videos coming.





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Oculus Quest: Breaking Down All Barriers to Entry

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May 22, 2019

We all remember the Oculus Rift when it was released back in 2016. It was a smash hit but now it’s 2019 and people want more. As a result, Facebook will be releasing Oculus Quest on the 21st of May this year retailing at $399 USD, which represents good bang for your buck.

Similar to last year's Oculus Go, it features a standalone design meaning it does not need to be hooked up to a PC or phone. The Oculus Go was designed to be used to watch TV or movies, whereas the Oculus Quest is designed with gaming and enterprise in mind.

Some features that are included in the new Oculus Quest are its four wide-angle tracking cameras, allowing the user to move around in a large space. The Quest utilizes dual hand controllers and has a slider for adjusting the distance between the lenses. Oculus has improved the sound quality by adding powerful invisible directional speakers, which also makes the design sleeker. For processing power, it uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 mobile chipset with 64GB or 128GB of storage. For recharging the Quest's batteries, there is a USB-C charging port, with this battery lasting up to 3 hours. The Quest is using much higher resolution screens than the Rift’s, at 1600 x 1440 pixels per eye and boasts enhanced lenses. But best of all the Quest is completely wireless, so no more tripping over cables. These features are great improvements, which makes it easier to use, therefore will have more mainstream appeal.

The Quest now uses the new "Insight" system, which allows the cameras to detect the edges of your space more effectively. The cameras have the ability to also pass monochrome video to your display, meaning you do not need to remove the headset to see what is going on around you. This system works more effectively, mapping spaces quite easily. Normally to calibrate the boundaries, you will need to walk around your room, but the Quest will calibrate and paint virtual lines on your floor, from wherever you are standing.

Another great feature of the Quest is its ability to remember up to five spaces. It will automatically switch between them once it detects a room from its memory, allowing free movement around the rooms, without having to recalibrate for each space. Oculus has put on display the "arena-scale" VR using the Quest, the possibility of limitless virtual motion is now getting to be a much more achievable goal.

The controllers look a bit different to the old ones that Rift was using, This is due to having the tracking strip flipped from below to above your hands, so the head-mounted cameras are better at tracking it. Over-all the controls have not changed a great deal. Some subtle changes are the analog stick, which has been positioned higher on the controllers and the controller’s face being marginally slimmer, as Oculus has eliminated the capacitive Touch panel. This panel in the past was used to detect the user’s thumb placement.

Oculus want to reach a bigger audience and are planning to build Enterprise Editions of their Quest and Go headsets sometime in 2019. This is nothing new for Oculus who have already made a similar approach to this market with their Rift. The main aim for Enterprise Editions is to enable businesses to bulk buy, allowing secure business applications to be installed onto the Quest and Go.

Connect with iTRA to discuss your next project.

iTRA Virtual Reality Project – Use of Fire Extinguishers

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April 2, 2019

Building upon the success of the VR Prestart Light Vehicle
Check which rolled out late last year, we have been working with one of our clients to enhance their Fire Extinguisher training by creating 3 Virtual Reality scenarios for their employees to experience.

While giving the trainees (virtual) hands on time with the extinguishers to better prepare them in the case of an emergency situation, our client also gains insight into their employees’ knowledge of which extinguishers to use and their effectiveness at extinguishing a fire. This data is collected throughout the 3 scenarios and sent back to TrainTrac for analysis. As an added bonus, the data is also presented to the trainee as a score which is added to a site wide leader board. This encourages competition between the employees and an incentive to do the training again to beat their co-workers score.



During the prototype stages of the project, we built a similar experience for the HoloLens, where a pallet fire would be placed in the real world using Augmented Reality and a trainee would use a virtual fire extinguisher to extinguish the fire. The benefits of this is that you can practice each scenario in the actual location that a real-world fire would occur. However, this approach does have added complexities and lacks the immersion that Virtual Reality provides. Ultimately our client ended up going for the Virtual Reality approach.

You can see demos of our other Virtual Reality showcases on our Virtual Reality page.

Connect with iTRA to discuss your next project.

Alpha Build of Google Maps’ Augmented Reality Mode

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March 12, 2019

Using Google Maps in the big smoke can have its issues. As you step off public transport and walk to your destination, you may realise you have been walking the wrong way. Maybe you became disorientated or it was your phone's compass playing up due to the fact you are surrounded by large metal infrastructure.

Google wants to solve this problem with its work-in-progress augmented reality mode. This will use your camera's view of the real world and will superimpose arrows and signs onto the real world, so you know exactly where to go. It uses the view of your camera and compares it to the Google Street View imagery database to figure out exactly where you are and which way you are facing. This makes up for inconsistencies from your GPS and/or compass. Currently, this app is in alpha testing stages.

It was almost a year ago that Google first announced its plans for AR walking directions at its annual I/O conference, but it has been quiet on the subject since. A lot of this time has been spent figuring out the finer points of the UI. Safety became an issue as early users tried to stand directly on top of the line when walking, even when it was not safe to do so. Google tried using floating particle effects in the air to represent paths and curves. A user commented on this and described it as if they were 'following floating trash'.

Also noted by the Google Maps team was that nobody likes to hold their phone up for a long period of time. The AR experience is designed keeping in mind that users will only need to use this in short bursts.

Using AR mode feels very much like Google Maps has for any other journey. Start by entering your destination as you normally would, then tap the walking directions button. The only difference is you tap the "Start AR" button instead of the "Start" button. Your camera's view will now appear on the screen. The app will ask you to point your camera at a building or landmark, you will notice a bunch of dots appear as it recognizes landmarks and points of interest around you. After a few seconds, the dots will fade away, which are then replaced by arrows and markers to guide you on your journey. On the bottom of the screen, you will see a small cut-out showing your location on the map, which means you don't have to switch modes see your ordinary map.

Holding your phone more parallel with the ground, Google Maps shifts back to the normal 2D map view. Hold your phone up like your reading a text message and Google Maps switches back to AR mode. Google Maps AR certainly works better in some situations than it does in others. This is to do with the view your camera has to relevant buildings and landmarks from your point of view. The clearer it can see that sort of infrastructure the more accurately the app works. If you are somewhere like in the middle of a plaza, it will probably take a few more seconds to get its bearings.

After seeing other companies using AR, Google decided their AR experience is something you should only view for a few seconds at a time. Looking at the world through your phone for a long period of time can make you a victim to what's happening around you, from thieves to walking into a pole. The city is best experienced with your own eyes anyway.

One part of this app works by using your camera; it takes that image and compresses it, then sends it to google. Once the image gets to the cloud, Google then analyzes that image and picks out the unique visual features. While Google is doing that, it is already analyzing your GPS location. From this information, Google has two points of reference, the image from your camera and your GPS location. This is enough for Google to work out exactly where you are and what you are looking at.

Currently, Google is rolling out this product to the "Local Guides", which is a community-based group that gives feedback to Google. Google currently doesn't have a time frame for this product to hit the mainstream.

Connect with iTRA to discuss your next project.

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