Housed on top of the Mineral Sciences building, the Kumba Iron Ore Virtual Reality Centre is Africa’s first virtual reality mine design centre. The Virtual Reality (VR) Centre is part of a R50 million project which facilitated the building of a completely new fifth floor on the Mineral Sciences Building to be used by the Department of Mining Engineering. The project, initiated by Head of Department of Mining Engineering Prof. Ronny Webber-Youngman and CEO of Kumba Iron Ore at the time Chris Griffith, was undertaken by the university in conjunction with mining company Kumba Iron Ore, which donated R18 million to the project. Approximately R12 million was allocated to the building of the VR Centre.
The VR Centre consists of a 66-seater lecture hall, a 3D stereoscopic theatre that seats 47, and a 3D-360 degree cylinder which can accommodate 25 people. The centre provides access to virtual reality simulation programmes, which can represent numerous scenarios and environments.
The building of the new fifth floor of the Mineral Sciences Building was a project of UP Technical Services, while the building of the VR Centre was done in parallel with the main project, but was managed by an independent team consisting of the Mining Engineering Department, Information Technology, hardware and software experts from the university, the Manager of Mining and Technical Information Systems from mining company Anglo American, and a 3D visualisation company.
Perdeby spoke to Johann Louw, general manager of the VR Centre, about some of the benefits of using VR in education. He said that the main benefit of the facility is that data and plans can be visualised and incidents can be recreated. He explained that the VR centre made it easier for students to visualise information, and also made it possible for students to experience environments such as factories, plants and mines without the risk of harm that is present when physically visiting a site. He further added that the centre makes it easi er for a lecturer to explain difficult concepts using visual aids, and that one of the main advantages is that when a student is shown a picture of a subject, language is no longer an issue.
When asked whether the VR Centre gave students using the facility an advantage, Louw said, “We strongly believe that to be the case, as the student leaves the university with an experience of being [in the mining environment] during their education. So when the student faces the real life situation, they have been taught about this situation in the virtual world . If one enters an immersive environment, the learning or teaching model changes to an experience and not just sitting in a classroom.” He also said that the centre was useful in other faculties, and said that the VR Centre is ideal for all faculties that use data in their curriculum, such as the faculties of Geology, Geo-Statistics, Architecture, Engineering and Medicine. He said that faculties such as these would benefit from explaining their work in a 3D environment.
The VR Centre belongs to the University of Pretoria and can be used by both students and lecturers in all faculties and is not just for Mining Engineering, according to Louw. He added that there will be a fee to be paid as visual content must be created, and funding is required to maintain and upgrade the centre. To use the centre, students and lecturers can contact Louw at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or virtual reality administrator Abea Kgatshe at email@example.com.
An aerial view of the 360 degree cylinder. Image provided.