It is part video game, part life-saving training course and all very, very cool (and novel).
NORCAT's new Ferdeno simulation mine, housed at Dynamic Earth, has been dubbed a "digital mine for a digital future" and it definitely seems to be inspired -- at least in part -- by James Cameron's futuristic film, Avatar.
Deep in the belly of Dynamic Earth, the new simulation uses gyroscopic technology, with players sitting inside gaming pods, complete with surround sound, and becoming the character on the screen. This is the world's first interactive and digital underground mine and it provides opportunities for training, development and immersive learning.
"The impetus for Ferdeno is to really demonstrate that the world of training and development has dramatically changed and (being) engaged in immersive learning, we believe, is the way of the future," Don Duval, NORCAT's CEO, said Thursday.
Currently, Ferdeno is set up to mimic mine rescue scenarios, allowing participants to strategize ways of staying safe underground. Coincidentally, the 10th International Mines Rescue Competition takes place Aug. 19-26 in Sudbury. The launch of the new mine and its rescue simulation was by design, Duval said, and driven by NORCAT's partnership with the mine rescue organization.
"The installation we have at Dynamic Earth is the first product within Ferdeno," Duval said. "The Ontario mine rescue is the simulation experience within Ferdeno that makes up the installation within Dynamic Earth. In the future, there'll be other scenarios, other stories. A lot of it will be driven by what we hear from the market."
Ed Wisniewski, NORCAT's director of software development, said his team designed the simulations over the course of four months.
"There was lots of no sleeping," he joked. "There were two of us. ... We went our separate ways in terms of how we were going to do it."
The other member of Wisniewski's team developed the graphics, while he worked on the artificial intelligence component. Two weeks later, they married their efforts.
"We spent the next three months trying to make this as close as we could possibly make it to the Ontario mine rescue experience," Wisniewski said. "It's constantly tweaking until we get to a certain point."
But a week before the mine's launch, Wisniewski was given a list of about 60 things that needed to be changed.
"That's a lot of things, it's a lot of sleepless nights," he said. "We just start banging away at each thing, one at a time. ... There wasn't much time for storyboarding."
Simulations will change, depending on what NORCAT's partners want to see underground, Duval added. He also said NORCAT is working with its mining partners on developing collaborative training opportunities and showcasing new products.
"On the flipside, there's a consumer retail youth market where you just want to build awareness of what it means to operate safely underground, but you can envision other storylines we may want to build," he said.
Wisniewski said Thursday's launch was an awesome experience.
"We lived and breathed this project, inside and out, for four months (six if you include the campaign)," he added. "In the last six months, it's been one thing after another and another, non-stop. We've been bombarded with things. ... It's a great feeling to be here today."