Desert Saber’s gaming technology simulates “life-or-death” scenarios for miners who need to complete safety training.

Workplace safety is no game, especially if you’re a miner.

But University of Arizona researchers have come up with a gamelike interactive training program for miners that promises to keep trainees engaged and thinking — rather than snoozing over PowerPoint slides.

The program was developed with the help of federal and state grants at the UA’s Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources, by inventors including recently retired UA professor Mary Poulton, UA grad and Lowell research scientist Leonard Brown, and Michael Peltier, programmer at Lowell’s Center of Mine Health and Safety.

Now, the UA inventors are looking to take the training program to market, as the university recently licensed the technology to Desert Saber LLC, a startup formed by the inventors.

Brown, who for his UA dissertation focused on the application of games for mining training, said computer games work “because they are highly engaging and foster critical thinking.”

“We know from teaching that sitting there, staring at a screen, listening, is not a way to engage people,” Poulton, a former UA distinguished professor of geosciences, mining engineering, law and public health and founding director of the Lowell Institute, said in a UA news release.

Yet new miners must have at least 40 hours of safety training plus eight hours of annual training.

Desert Saber’s gamelike programs use interactive, scenario-based training exercises, “simulating situations where teams need to come together and quickly make life-or-death decisions,” the UA says.

Poulton said the scenarios create stress and help teach communication, decision-making and leadership skills.

Tech Launch Arizona is supporting the startup with mentoring and business plans, with the help of Lewis Humphreys, TLA licensing manager for information technology; Mark Baker, a volunteer “commercialization partner;” and TLA mentor-in-residence Kevin McLaughlin, who helped with company formation and continues to advise the Desert Saber team.


The summer doldrums have arrived in Tucson, but the local startup scene isn’t taking a break.

Startup Tucson has several events planned for local techpreneurs in June, starting this weekend with Thryve Weekend 2017, a three-day event where people are mentored to take their ideas and turn them into a launch-ready business proposition over a weekend.

Tickets are still available for the event, which runs 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday, June 9 to 11, at CoLab Workspace, 17 E. Pennington St. The cost is $125 for individuals or the first team member and $50 for additional team members; go to for more information and registration links.

Startup Tucson also is planning its next “1 Million Cups” event, during which local entrepreneurs talk about their journeys, on Wednesday, June 14, at CoLab. And on June 28, entrepreneurs from the second cohort of Startup Tucson’s Thryve ScaleUp accelerator program will graduate from the program and pitch their business concepts and plans for growth.

More information on those events also is available at


Startup companies need seed money, and some early-stage money dried up a couple of years ago when $20 million in state tax credits for investments made by private-equity angel investors ran out.

But expect angel funding to surge again after Gov. Doug Ducey in late May signed into law legislation that added another $10 million worth of credits over four years.

The Arizona Technology Council pushed for recapitalization of the program, citing a total economic impact of more than $1 billion and a direct return on investment to the state of 2.2 to 1 in tax revenue.

“It was imperative that the state recapitalize this program to bring investments back to Arizona and to keep fueling our startup community,” said Curtis Gunn, chairman of Tucson Desert Angels investing group, in a news release applauding the tax-credit extension.

Tucson Tech runs most Thursdays or Sundays in the Star. Contact senior reporter David Wichner at or 573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner