Virtual and augmented reality, digital twins, internet of things, blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning… bingo! Unless you have a reliable map of the digital landscape, these emerging technologies can be overwhelming and make conferences and meetings feel like a giant game of buzzword bingo. But we cannot ignore the technology avalanche coming our way: it is this convergence of technologies that is radically transforming all industries, says Ryan Peterson, CEO and Co-Founder of technology company Finger Food Studios Inc.

“If we think about technology, like Blockchain, AR/VR, and machine learning, what’s happening is we’re piling all these technologies on these different industries and it just takes that trigger for an avalanche to happen,” said Patterson in his keynote address at the AME Lunch at Roundup in January 2018, “The key is to find the core business challenges in our own businesses. Technology is just tools; the goal is to solve the business challenge.”

A major challenge faced by mineral explorers in British Columbia is explaining the footprint and lifecycle of potential mine development to First Nations, communities and governments. We can leverage these technologies to communicate more clearly and facilitate better and faster decision making.

At Finger Food Studios, Paterson and his team are developing mixed reality communication tools for different audiences. Virtual reality, he said, is helping these groups to better understand proposed projects and associated reclamation and mitigation measures. Creating virtual models or ‘twins’ of proposed mining developments, said Paterson, also helps to enhance mine planning, from productivity to environmental measures, and support reclamation planning.

“If you can’t simulate it digitally, you shouldn’t be doing anything,” said Paterson.

What is a digital twin?

A digital or virtual twin is an advanced digital simulation of a physical object or process that helps optimize business performance. Computers, data storage, and bandwidth have increased in capacity and decreased in price enough to create virtual, real-time models of physical entities based on real data. They have been adopted by a range of industries, manufacturing in particular, to model the life cycle of a physical product, from design to use. By interrogating the digital twin, physical issues can be detected and solved faster and outcomes predicted with higher accuracy.

“This tech wasn’t around a few years ago, but today the tech is at a point where it can be adopted by companies,” said Paterson, “In mining, we can create a digital twin of your production scenario and the life cycle of the entire mine. More and more of this technology is going to be adopted very quickly, before a shovel goes in the ground.”

Paterson predicts that digital twins will optimize processes and increase worker safety but also be used to model the social and environmental life cycle of a mine, including consultation with local communities, tracking the impacts on fish and wildlife, incorporating watershed models, and communicate that to a diverse group of people to drive faster decision making. Finger Food Studios are developing digital twins with Goldcorp to enhancing shovel operation to improve safety and mitigate risk on the mine site.

Many mining companies are working with technology companies to embrace this technology. Earlier this year, Teck announced that they are partnering with Victoria-based technology company LlamaZOO Interactive to create digital twins for mine planning and community engagement. Teck says that using immersive virtual reality experiences will allow people to visit project sites without having to travel to a location in person. The virtual mine models also allow people to see a project from all angles. Anglo American Plc are using digital twins to optimize its mining fleet, including applications to track the performance of haulage at its Los Bronces mining site in Chile and at a pipeline in Brazil.

Flying over a proposed mine plan wearing a virtual reality headset may not replace the thrill of a helicopter ride, but as a tool to examine and explain a proposed mine plan to a wide range of people, the potential for digital twin technology is just taking off.