“Utazók approach to a Virtual Geological Exploration field trip – An insight into the future”

“Utazók approach to a Virtual Geological Exploration field trip – An insight into the future”

Our challenge, your solutions

Interactive virtual geological exploration field trip

By creating Centralized Cloud based Database from 3D images to all the way down to core logging and laboratory analysis. 

 

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Team: Utazók

Team members

Gunbileg Ganbat, Pablo Echevarria, Mustahsan.Sh

Members roles and background

Utazok team consists of friends who have unique backgrounds and worked effectively for this solution. Mr.Gunbileg have acquired, over decades of geological mapping, experience in the field of Mongolia. While Mr. Mustahsan is an exploration geologist with a background in economic geology and sequence stratigraphy. He is currently working as an Assistant Director for the Geological Survey of Pakistan. And Mr. Pablo Echevarria is a GIS and Remote Sensing geologist, currently working on pipeline inspection by ILI tools.

Contact details

Gunbileg.G - gunbeeshuu6@gmail.com, Pablo.J - pablo.j.echevarria@gmail.com, Mustahsan.Abbasi-mustahsan.abbasi@gmail.com

Solution description

Creating a Centralized Cloud based Database approach will be sustainable and transferable solution for the issue. There are several ways of collecting data. The most important part which is collecting data by Universities using sophisticated technologies.  A first approach for a succesful virtual field experience could be given to the students by bringing this trio in practice. That is:

  1. a) Remote Sensing data processing and interpretation.
  2. b) 3D models and topography acquired using drones.
  3. c) Aerial geophysics and geochemistry (initial XRF/LIBS measurement tools mounted on armed drones, why not?)

And of course, this trio should be fully integrated into Geographic Information Systems.

For the reconnaissance and regional scale analysis, the satellite data can be used to delineate areas of study. The capabilities of satellites and their sensors is improving continuously. A good example is that it is possible to get topographic data from all over the world at 30m resolution using SRTM images, or even better by stereoscopic pairs of high spatial resolution images. The topography is the backbone of any regional approach to a geological anaylisis. A second step implies to get some more info over that topography to map it, lets say, to put some nice surface colors over it. The 2 main satellite images traditionally used for mapping are LandSat missions and ASTER images. Both are optical images, dealing with the visible, VNIR, SWIR and Thermal range of the electromagnetic spectrum. There are many technics which can be applied to process, interpret, classify and map using this optical images. This 3 types of remote sensing data (SRTM, LandSat8 and ASTER) should be the standard datasets for every virtual fieldtrip, since they can be downloaded for free, have a worldwide coverage, and there are many opensource software to deal with them, together with decades of extremely good academic papers regarding their uses and beneficts.

But, if as a second lecture, or at a more intensive level, it is possible to go deeper into the Remote Sensing analysis (and we also have a bigger budget), it is important to say that in the market there are high resolution images, which can acquire data with a spatial resolution in the order of cm, while they still can have a very good spectral resolution in the VNIR and SWIR ranges, as the World View missions for example.

Moreover, something that definetively should be followed with a close eye are the developments on RADAR data from SAR sensors. 10 years ago it was very complex to process this type of data. But with modern software and algorithms it is possible to obtain excelent images. But should we want to use them? And the reason is that the world is being covered with more and more sensors of this type. Due to the nature of the geophysical property that they measure (time, amplitud, phase, wavelength of an emited and reflected wave), many new features of the surface could be mapped, like soil moisture, deformation on the land (called radar interferometry)

Getting into a more detailed approach, in order to obtain good field resolution dat, drones loaded with high resolution cameras can collect information from the areas highlighted in remote-sensing maps. Drone mesh networking could create 3D topographic maps where outcrops could be seen and the rock formations could be marked as well. Geologists then can  zones of interest by further working on the bearing, structural features and mineralization veins.

M  can be used to collect further detailed information from the zones of interest. Information collected can be: close-up images, geochemical data using portable automated XRF and/or LIBS technologies. In robots,  technology could be used for communication because it’s cost effective and is innovative in itself given its minimal use in mineral exploration at present.

In such an exploration program, everything will be digital; from maps to the assay results that would further ensure the ease of data sharing digitally, and even some core data analysis if there were any. Pilot projects could be run, and this solution can give an insight to further highlight the shortcoming of automated data collection and to develop strategies to cope with those issues.

Solution context

At present, there is no concept of a centralized database that can give us a whole spectrum of exploration activities just for the Virtual Exploration purposes. Our approach to the given challenge is by creating a cloud-based database from 3D imagery of ground surface to initial drill core laboratory analysis data. The way these enormous amounts of datasets are configured is based on which type of field trip you are taking. For instance, field trips could be for the purpose of geological mapping, paleontology, hydrogeology, geophysics and mining development. In each purpose, 3D imagery of the ground surface is necessary, but in the geological mapping you don’t usually use core logging nor groundwater information.

            Database will be collected from 3 sources: 1. acquired by the sophisticated new technologies, 2. Open source data from available sources and 3. Mining companies dataset giveaway. Each source has its own difficulties, for example, in the first source some tools have to be configured to acquire data (XRD/XRF analysis from a given point) and open source data does not provide you full range of dataset in given point. Mining companies don’t share their data to the public so easily, but there is an option where we could extract data from mining companies. When the mining cycle begins, companies tend to look for another model where the ore body continues. By sharing information to the universities would definitely help.

 Requirements for the data would be according to the program that students are going to use. For instance, Leapfrog Viewer from Seequent Limited is a perfect example for range of use, it is free to use, and accessible from any point in the world through the internet. And this program is capable of embedding all of the data types previously mentioned.

These datasets will be installed to the server which will be available through a cloud-based system to the students. Students will access it by an integratable program where they could interact with the datasets.   

 

Solution target group

The primary target group who we aim to benefit from this project are the students of geology, geophysics, mining engineering and other mining related professions.  However, we will need a cross disciplinary approach if we want to give some benefit to the future students. In order to achieve our goal, geoscientists including cartographers, engineers (primarily automation, mechanical, mechatronics and mining engineers), innovators, futurists and artificial intelligence professionals have to come on a single platform to tackle existing problems and find their innovative solutions. For the target group our solution will effect in following ways. 

Advantage

  • You can visualize any object (ore body, veins, fold, faults) from any perspective which gives you full understanding of settings
  • You do not have to go on long trips to see trip points which are going to save time and money. 
  • You will be able to use tools such as cross section in any direction. 
  • Will give you whole concept of geological exploration in sequences (Remote sensing - reconnaissance work - sampling - laboratory analysis - overlaying geophysical work for underground information)
  • You will be able to turn on and off which data can be seen.

Disadvantage

  • You will be able to work on only given databases 
  • Sitting in front of a display will not give you as much as exercises that are required in a field trip. 
  • You will not be able to smell and lick the rock chip sample

Solution impact

The core concept of the virtual exploration (VE) is to provide a best field experience possible to the students. There are two parameters that are crucial in deciding the impact of our work: a) Resources utilized b) Time consumed. Creation of the virtual exploration project might sound costly at first, but if we look at it in the long term, we could clearly see that it’s going to be a one time investment and after that we don’t have to spend any extra resource to keep it running. Geology of an area doesn't change for thousands of years so the same VE course can be used for an area even for several years, unless a new better technology comes in the market, or new geological models and concepts arizes..

In case of a mining site, however, it could be a different story but still we have got a remarkable benefit here. Small mines can be an ideal place to start with. If we keep adding data overtime, we can eventually cover all the aspects in one place! How? For example at first we could gather information when the area was unexplored, in the second go when the exploration started, next when the prospecting started followed by showing the mining operations. And at the end of course virtually telling them about the mine closures. Let’s say a life of a small mine is 10 years, data collected at different instances could be used to make a single VE course that could be completed let’s say in a day or two. Students don’t have to visit different mine sites to see different stages of mining rather they can have a real life experience to see various stages of life while sitting in their classroom. Now we can scale, how much time and resources spent on the field trips could be saved and how much positive impact this course can have.

Solution tweet text

#We can take you to the remotest corners of the planet to teach you geology right from the comfort of your couch. Sit back, open your laptop, follow our instructions and voila! - Trust us, we are Geologists from the Future!

Solution innovativeness

Our team is not aware of any such product available in the market where students can just sit and virtually go the exploration into the field. What we have seen, at its best there are high quality video footages available where the lecture explains the geological features. Or there are Virtual Reality (VR) headset equipment that students can wear and could get a feeling as they are really in the field. Here what we are trying to do is bringing sophisticated technologies together. Simple drone footage is not enough, using spectral data coupled with the drone footage and the in-field assay data where applicable is definitely a way to go. To make things further realistic, VR headset could be added so that the participant can feel as they are walking through the dataset itself! The level of innovation and the use of technology can be noticed at its best. To sum-up there are various technologies that are available in the market, but there is a need to incorporate them in a right order to get the desired result for the creation of an effective VE tour.

Solution transferability

Our goal is to create self sustainable database of geological information and in the future, it is going to be used in technologies such as AI, Autonomation and in machine learning.

Let’s suppose that we are the professors of structural geology at the University of Buenos Aires. After a theoretical lecture about the beautifully folded chain of Sierra de la Ventana, it is the time of our students to work. We offer them the data set, which would include a topographic modelling at regional scale, a photogrammetric survey performed at high resolution over particular folds which we would like to analyze, and a VR walking through the route 76 which cross cuts most of the structures. Since a theoretical lecture can be done literally everywhere, every data set could be loaded on a cloud server, which would be the difference to perform the tasks by a student from the University of Buenos Aires and a student from the University of Miskolc?

None! Both students could work on learning about structural geology, visiting book-like folded structures from their coachs, measuring beds thicknesses, pinch outs, contacts.

We think our solutions in terms of “sharing”, rather than in terms of “transferring”

Solution sustainability

As we know that our proposed solution itself is quite futuristic, one thing is certain that it’s going to be sustainable in the mid and long term. As mentioned in one of our previous sections, it’s no surprise that it takes thousands of years to bring even a modest change in the geology of an area. On the surface it might seem that the technology is changing fast, but interestingly even with the advancement in technology VE is still practically non-existent! What does that mean? In simple words, for the mid-term we don’t have to worry about technology becoming obsolete, what we should focus on is the implementation of already existing technologies because we are still lagging behind in employing existing technology effectively.

To put the things in perspective, all the proposed techniques to be used as mentioned in the solution description section were available in 2010 in less advanced form. But we didn’t feel any need to use those technologies for VE, because it seemed unnecessary at that time. Current pandemic has forced us to think what if we are unable to go to the field for exploration work?  It is 2020 now, that means technology is 10 years ahead and we just came to realize it now. That proves that for the mid-term our current strategies will be still sustainable. In the long term however, due to the consistent use of technology in VE, a point will come when our VE requirements might increase and we would like to take it to the next level by bringing in the Halogram Technology for example. At that point, to make things sustainable, we will have no choice but to make VE fully dependent on data sciences and automated artificial intelligence. But this is too futuristic once we make VE tours common, we will definitely reach that point and we will have to look for new strategies at that time.

Solution team work

Communication and coordination is the key, we all three knew that very well because we have worked together in the past several times on various geology related projects. So there was effective coordination amongst the team members. We assigned tasks and divided our work. Continuous information sharing and giving feedback to each other kept us motivated and we kept going. Given our good understanding and common educational background, we can be sure that we will work as a team in future as well, whenever we get any other chance. 13 hours and half of the world seperating us, but we have reached far beyond in 24 hours than we have anticipated. Therefore, what we can reach is limitless. 

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