The metaverse: is it just a buzzword or is it the future of mining? What is the metaverse, how will it impact mining, and what does it mean for your mining job?
Could the mining jobs of the future be based in the virtual world of the metaverse? For all we might think of mining as a very hands-on, practical industry, in reality many jobs in the industry already use technology that falls under this strange new buzzword, “the metaverse”.
So, what is the metaverse, how will it impact mining, and what does it mean for your mining job?
What is the metaverse?
We can think of the metaverse as a next-level version of the internet. It is imagined to be a universal, immersive, virtual world created using virtual reality, augmented reality, and various other forms of hardware and software.
That makes it sound a little like a vision of the future imagined by gamers, and perhaps it is, but it has the potential to transform the future of work in very practical ways.
If it sounds futuristic, it’s probably because the term itself came from a science fiction novel (published in 1992, when public use of the internet was in its infancy). But the mining industry is already using many of these technologies on some level.
How mining is embracing metaverse-type technology
Mining companies have been embracing metaverse-type technologies for years. Automated trains and trucks, operated remotely from a control room perhaps thousands of kilometres away, are no longer a novelty in the industry—although their use is now accelerating.
Everything from 3D modeling of ore deposits to the use of advanced robotics to perform tasks, tracking devices, monitoring software, “digital twin” technology and virtual reality training programs, and automated control rooms for trains and haul trucks can be considered part of a potential metaverse. These are all interconnected tools, enabling work to take place, safely and efficiently, even if there’s not a human physically there to do the work. Analysts at Accenture, a global professional services company, expect that 60% of Australia’s mine industry employees will be working remotely within the decade.
Why mining loves the metaverse
Where these technologies have already taken off, the motives for adopting them are obvious. Most obviously, they have the potential to reduce running costs and increase productivity. It’s much cheaper to employ someone to drive a truck (or several trucks at once) from a control room in the city (which, in reality, could just be a computer in their home) than to fly several FIFO truck drivers thousands of kilometres to site each shift rotation. It’s better for the planet, too, as mining companies seek to decarbonise their operations and do their bit to combat climate change.
It’s also much safer. Automation, virtual reality, augmented reality and the use of robots all remove a human from a potentially dangerous situation. All mining companies pride themselves on having good safety rates and excellent injury prevention protocols and training. The metaverse will make mining even safer still.
The metaverse is transforming training in mining
Mining companies are investing in new metaverse technologies every day. BHP, Rio Tinto and Woodside, for example, all use 360 video capture technology, which is an increasingly popular way to save costs through virtual reality site inductions and training.
Perth-based technology company Viewport developed a hazard identification platform for Woodside, allowing it to use a simulation to train staff to avoid dangers and experience dangerous scenarios, like handling containment leaks, which cannot be safely experienced in the real world.
Similarly, for Alcoa, Viewport created a “digital twin” of the company’s entire substation, with all the relevant tools and equipment and PPE. It is used to train staff in extremely hazardous scenarios before they so much as step foot on site.
What does the metaverse mean for your mining career?
Who knows whether the term metaverse will survive into the future. At the moment, it’s more of a buzzword than a reality. But the technology itself is here to stay (stay, that is, until it is surpassed by better technology). Why? Because the mining industry is embracing it. Any technology that saves on overheads, is safer for employees to use, improves efficiency and productivity, and lessens an operation’s impact on the planet and our climate is going to be adopted enthusiastically.
What does that mean for mining jobs? While some roles, like haul truck drivers, are likely to disappear completely, there are plenty of jobs that will always exist, even if they continue to evolve. The new technologies of the metaverse will also create thousands of new, exciting, and highly skilled jobs in the mining industry—which means there will always be plenty of opportunity for passionate people.
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