Case study

Supporting geoscience for Exeter University and Deep Digital Cornwall


The hub featuring an ActiveWall and Virtalis GeoVisionary software provides an innovative platform for geoscience research.

The University of Exeter offers research and study in sciences (including mining via its Camborne School of Mines), social sciences, business, humanities, with a breadth and depth of expertise. Since 1851, the University of Exeter has been dedicated to discovery and changing lives through education, its success built on a strong partnership with its students and a clear focus on high performance.

The University leads Deep Digital Cornwall (DDC), a £4.4 million project launched in 2021. The Deep Digital Cornwall Hub boasts a wide range of technology, such as specialist computer hardware, software and datasets for use and exploration by regional SMEs – including a state-of-the-art Virtalis ActiveWall and GeoVisionary software. This innovative facility has provided organisations with:

  • A platform for users to import, interrogate and extract value from underground data, such as for mining or geothermal interests, alongside specialist support
  • A physical hub to explore open access and licensed datasets (including many relating to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly)
  • A state-of-the art 3D and 4D data visualisation suite for exploring data and innovative ideas in real-time and with immersive technologies
  • Advanced software packages, powerful hardware and computing infrastructure
  • Expert knowledge and research assistance from specialists across the DDC project partners
  • Training sessions with the DDC team

The facility has seen plenty of use:

  • Over 1400 hours spent curating data from sources such as historical maps
  • Over 65 SMEs have formally viewed the visualisation suite with many more during workshops and conferences
  • 18 SMEs have used the suite to explore and interrogate their data

One of Deep Digital Cornwall’s key aims is to give SMEs in Cornwall access to all of the above, which they would not otherwise benefit from. In this way, DDC is making innovative, cutting-edge technology much more accessible. So, SMEs can work with data they have stored but didn’t know how best to analyse it, and utilise new data that was created through the Project's work packages – including an airborne electromagnetic survey, Boxscan, historic mine modelling, and more.

The visualisation technology takes numerous forms of information including engineering models, point clouds, and information such as flat 2D maps, and turns it into a 3D immersive model that anyone can step into. This makes it far easier to understand the complex data and the relationship between datasets. The 3D-enabled ActiveWall creates a far more inclusive experience compared to crowding around a laptop to view data.

How the University of Exeter, Deep Digital Cornwall, and regional SMEs use Virtalis technology

Updating old datasets

With a rich mining history stretching back thousands of years, and as the mining centre of the 18th century world, Cornwall has plenty of archival mining data to sift through. However, this information tends to be in the form of old mine plans, depicting lines laid across each other that are hard to interpret and give little sense of what actually exists underground. With Virtalis GeoVisionary, researchers can translate the data into a 3D model that can be viewed using the ActiveWall. The data can also be overlaid with modern scans and information for a fuller picture and to allow for greater interrogation and comparison between datasets.

Working with large datasets

The University, DDC, and the visiting SMEs work with a wide range of data, from seismic data to geothermal data, to point clouds, drone surveys, and more. With Virtalis GeoVisionary, users can import the data and create a single easy-to-understand immersive visualisation. The immersive 3D model makes it much clearer where void spaces exist underground, especially compared to the archival mine maps. This also allows for novel techniques of visualising data to improve our understanding of flood risks and coastal collapses and visualising other geotechnical data in its in-situ environment.

Analysing electromagnetic data with Virtalis GeoVisionary

One specific example is a survey that was carried out using an inflatable electromagnetic detector, tethered from a helicopter that gathered data while flying above the ground. This “bird” enabled DDC to search for hidden mineral veins that might have been missed by the previous prospectors in Cornwall, as well as other geological features and hidden fractures that might be useful for end-users ranging from geothermal energy to hydrogeologists. This data will be added to the data rich models that are used in Virtalis GeoVisionary.

You can read an article from the BBC to learn more, and see the bird and ActiveWall in action below.

The project is receiving up to £4.4 million of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department of Levelling Up, Communities and Housing (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit

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