Senator Jay Rockefeller visited the Visualization
Lab at Marshall University yesterday. Located in the engineering building on
the campus the virtual reality simulation was built with grants made available
to the university. The lab features a
large screen showing an avatar, or representation of a miner. He can walk
through the mine and deal with any challenges put before him
The system uses several different virtual reality programs
including the online service Second Life. Operators of the lab hope that in the
near future they can use these systems to create a training program for miners
and rescue teams that would be available on the Mining Safety and Health Administration
Web site. Rockefeller says the technology is what’s next.
“It’s the first step, they’re laying the ground
work in a highly sophisticated technology, virtual where you know you’re
actually in the mine, that’s what they’re going to in the next 1-2 maybe 2 ½
years, they’re going to achieve that,” Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller says the technology can also help
those doing the rescuing.
“Being a mine inspector or being in a safety team
that goes in, a rescue team that goes into a mine and then they can’t go in
because the level of methane is too high and they have to come back out, it’s a
very dangerous business,” Rockefeller said.
Tony Szwilski is a professor of Environmental
Science and Safety at Marshall. He says this is just the beginning of training
in a virtual reality environment.
“We need to do a lot more, we’re just starting
this technology, and we’re talking about these environmentally internet based
environments which are relatively new, big companies, multinational companies
like British Petroleum’s Chevron, but the mining industry isn’t using these
virtual platforms,” Szwilski said.
Szwilski says the virtual reality training courses
could make it easier on the miners.
“Well the miners often have refresher courses for
eight hours on a Saturday and they have to travel a long way and spend all day
in the classroom, we’re looking at ways that we can make it more attractive and
we can make the message more significant during their training,” Szwilski said.
Randy Massey is a former miner who is now the
program director with the Mine Safety Technology Consortium.
Massey says it’s tough to see fellow miners deal
with a disaster.
“You do get to know these people and you don’t
want to read about them as being injured or hurt, jokingly I’ll tell them just
do what I’ve talked about and used the things that you’ve learned,” Massey
The Visualization Lab at Marshall University hopes
to have the first wave of virtual training available on the MSHA site in the
next few months.