Applying advanced gaming technology to complex mining exploration challenges may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but for one innovative West Australian company, it’s been their raison d’etre for over a decade.
Sentient has been developing ‘serious gaming’ solutions for various business cases throughout Australia and internationally for over 12 years, primarily in the resource sector but also in other areas such as utilities and education. Employing a local team of 45 people with 25 developers with backgrounds in computer science and game design, the Sentient skillset opens the door to working on any number of different types of solutions required by their clients.
“We have a large group of talented people who are constantly working on applying new technologies to industry problems and adding value for our customers and tailored to their needs,” says Product Manager, Leonie Yann.
“We create solutions that are flexible and adapt to changing environments and feedback from end users.”
Sentient’s MaVi tools are a case in point. Originally designed to address a need that Rio Tinto brought to the team in 2021, for the past year, Sentient have been collaborating with Rio Tinto to implement some 15 interactive communication tools so far, with the potential to include additional phases of development for subsequent consultations.
“The tools span across several departments including Studies, Heritage and Environmental Approvals,” said Ms Yann. “We hope that our MaVi tools will become an industry standard for communicating with stakeholders, both for Traditional Owner and regulatory body consultations.”
The advantage of using gaming technology and applying it in creative ways within the resources industries has resulted in increasing transparency and improved conversations between those industries and Traditional Owner groups. For instance, as a mining organisation considers expanding operations to an area of country that will be impacted by mining activities, MaVi tools can offer the Traditional Owners a holistic view of the country.
“The tool allows users to show and hide different elements such as GIS data, drone footage, imagery and custom 3D animations at different times to set up specific data sets that are relevant to any ongoing discussions,” says Ms Yann.
“Our main challenge in designing MaVi tools was considering both sides of the conversation being had. We had to consider the technical complexities of what the customer is trying to share but also design a tool that was easy to use and understand from the stakeholder’s point of view.”
The tool effectively picks up on issues that would otherwise have been missed using traditional consultation methods – an exceptionally valuable asset to have at a client’s disposal when expansions into Country can be so important to get right.
Rio Tinto has said that MaVi has allowed Traditional Owners to identify potential issues with planned development, which may have been missed without the consolidated data and visual imagery .
“This content partnership with Sentient has been foundational in our new approach as it delivers leading practice consultation and ensures informed decision-making by Traditional Owners.”
Over the years, Ms Yann has helped to design and deliver a number of training, animation and data visualisation packages to Sentient’s clients. With a background in 3D art and development, Ms Yann and the team understand the possibilities of what a gaming engine applied to industry can bring, and genuinely aim to understand the customer and stakeholder needs to design a tool that fits.
“It’s our team of managers and developers which sets Sentient apart, because we are passionate about what we do and have authentic care for our customers,” says Doug Bester, Sentient’s Managing Director.
For now, most of the team operate out of Perth and in uncertain COVID-affected times, it’s highlighted the need to adopt new technologies so people can work anywhere. However, Mr Bester is aware that this may change over time with the team working elsewhere as Sentient’s reputation spreads worldwide.
“Externally we see a lot of our customers adopting remote working, and we know that the products and services we develop can offer a range of different communication methods to support this – and MaVi tools are just one example,” says Mr Bester.
It may not always be possible to get out onto country to view and discuss locations but with drone footage, imagery and 3D representations of the land all combining together, Sentient can ensure that everyone is oriented before discussions begin.
“We have even used other technologies to add to the value of the tools, including Virtual Realty tours of sites, which lets people remotely ‘stand in’ and explore a location in a fully immersive environment during a consultation.”
Being at the vanguard of such advanced applications of this kind of technology is an exciting frontier to explore, says Mr Bester.
“Our team loves to find new ways to apply new and old technology to industry problems and we have been well-placed over the last couple of years.
“We are excited to see how the pandemic inspires the future landscape of work and the next technologies that we can explore and implement for our customers.”