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Noront Resources pioneers new technology

June 1, 2010
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Exploration with 0 Comments

Standing out from the competition at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s (PDAC) International Trade Show and Investor Exchange can be a real challenge. So called “booth bunnies” have been known to attract a crowd and promotional items can be counted on to lure the odd investor, but it was cutting-edge technology that accounted for the congestion around Noront Resources’ booth at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, March 7 to 10.

The junior mining company, a major player in Ontario’s red-hot Ring of Fire camp, showcased its Eagle’s Nest and Blackbird projects using a Microsoft Surface multi-touch computer that revolutionizes the way mining companies store and view maps and assay results.The Microsoft Surface multi-touch computer looks like a coffee table with a large, horizontal surface monitor on which maps, photographs and data can be displayed, moved around and manipulated using simple hand gestures.

A viewer built by Noront using Bing Maps, Microsoft’s version of Google Earth, shows the location of drillholes and links to wet and dry photographs of the drill core as well as assay results from the collar all the way to the bottom of the hole.

The core is logged using DH Logger, a core-logging tool developed by Sudbury-based Century Systems Technologies Inc. and transmitted every night to Noront Resources’ server in Toronto via satellite, where it is immediately accessible by vice-president of geology, Jeremy Niemi, and other members of the company’s executive team.

Billed as a collaborative tool, Microsoft Surface allows a team of geologists to sit around the table, call up geophysical surveys, superimpose them, peel back layers, or make them semi-transparent.

“It’s great for seeing how things line up,” said Niemi. “You have these moments when light bulbs go off, and that’s really what we want.”

The multi-touch table, so-named because three, four or more people can manipulate objects on the table simultaneously, places a wealth of geological data at one’s fingertips.

Mining companies have hundreds or thousands of printed maps in rolls, tubes and drawers that are rarely reviewed because they are difficult to access and cumbersome to handle. They’re also available digitally on conventional computers, but the maps are usually in specialized programs.

With Microsoft Surface, they’re available on a common platform and much easier to access.

The computer also interacts with barcoded sections of core placed on the table, “automatically taking you to that specific hole and bringing up all of the data for that piece of core,” said Niemi.

A vertically mounted monitor on a wall can also be used for presentations to larger groups.

Also creating buzz at the Noront booth was the Noront Universal Mining Application, or NUMA, an iPhone/iTouch application that calculates the in situ value of a metal in a drillhole or deposit. Available as a free download from Apple’s App Store, NUMA automatically links to the London Metal Exchange to retrieve real-time metal prices, allowing the user to calculate the dollar value per tonne of one or more metals.

“You can enter any data you wish to enter, whether it’s hard data from a drillhole or just data that you heard an analyst talking about on TV,” said Wes Hanson, Noront Resources’ president and CEO. “It’s a quick and easy tool to allow you to benchmark different deposits or different drillholes.”

The objective for developing the application was to appeal to young, tech-savvy investors who might be interested in “dabbling” in the stock market.

“Our vision was to be the first mining company to use a tool such as the iPhone that is really connected to the youth of today and to get our name out there as a young, progressive company,” said Joanne Jobin, vice-president, corporate communications. “It’s a hip tool that these kids can hook into.”

By mid-April, the Apple App store reported approximately 700 NUMA downloads, including some from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Security regulators with the TSX-Venture Exchange have expressed some concern about the application, claiming it reports non-compliant information – the value of the metals in the ground, as opposed to the value of recoverable metals – and have asked Noront to remove it from the market, but “nothing has been decided yet,” said Hanson.

“I don’t view it as disclosure. I view it as a calculator. There’s no attempt to mislead the public and there’s a disclaimer that tells you it’s an in situ value calculator.”

Hanson claims there is potential for other mining-related apps, including an iPhone version of the Hard Rock Miner’s Rules of Thumb Handbook, which is currently available as a free download from the McIntosh Engineering/Stantec web site, but not yet configured for hand-held devices.

Other consumer-based technologies are also being leveraged for mining applications. As an example, Hanson cites the Diavik Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories that is using Xbox technology to train operators of load-haul-dump machines, a far more cost-efficient alternative to relying on quarter-million-dollar simulators.


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