UNSW's commercialisation division, New South Innovations (NSi) has signed a multi-million dollar agreement with Coal Services Pty Ltd to supply a suite of software and virtual-reality theatres to support mine safety training.

Like a computer game, the interactive software program recreates an underground mine environment by projecting an "immersive" film in two theatre modes - a 360-degree 'AVIE' version for group training, and a 180-degree 'iDOME' for individual training sessions.

The agreement will see UNSW supply four 360-degree AVIE theatres and 12 iDOMES delivered to Coal Services at four purpose built VR training sites across NSW.

Coal Services provides critical services to the NSW coal mining industry in occupational health and safety, workers' compensation, welfare and mines rescue.

Comprising five training modules that simulate three-dimensional mine conditions, the VR training package is tailored to address core competencies required for Australian mine worker accreditation.

Viewers navigate the virtual mine by using a joystick and touch screen as the software presents a series of simulated underground emergency drills, including unaided self escape, hazard awareness, rib and roof stability, and truck and shovel operations.

"There is no question that these technologies have the potential to save lives," says UNSW's Dr Phil Stothard who led the software's development. It's a useful teaching tool that helps train and assess miners about safe work procedures before they're exposed to the real mine environment."

Dr Stothard says similar safety training packages could be developed for high-risk industries such as construction, policing and the military.

The novel AVIE and iDOME theatres were developed by the iCinema Centre for Interactive Research, which is a joint venture between UNSW's College of Fine Arts and the School of Computer Science and Engineering.

Their development was initiated by the Director of iCinema, Professor Jeffrey Shaw, an ARC Federation Fellow. "Interactive cinema is a form of cinema that integrates all forms of media in an intelligent narrative landscape, allowing the audience to interact with and become part of the cinematic experience," says iCinema's' Chairman and Queen Elizabeth II Fellow, Dr Dennis Del Favero.

"It plunges audiences into an 'immersive reality' where there are no barriers between the virtual and the physical, and where narrative is created spontaneously and cooperatively."

Professor Shaw says that Coal Services is being visionary in adopting iCinema's technologies to enhance the effectiveness of mine safety training. "AVIE and iDOME are world leading Australian innovations. Coal Services has recognized their unique capabilities and are setting a precedent that other industrial sectors can follow."

NSi expects the technologies to be rapidly adopted by other high-risk industries such as construction, policing and the military.

"The investment by Coal Services is a wonderful endorsement of the technology and its application in training for high risk industries. We are now in the process of commercialising the technology to make it available across industry in Australia and internationally" says Alan El-Kadhi, Business Development Manager for NSi.

The technologies will be showcased in September 2007 at AIMEX, the largest mining technology, equipment and services trade show in Asia Pacific.

Watch the video story on SMH online.

Media Contact: Dan Gaffney, UNSW Media Unit, 0411 156 015