AR Sandbox makes topographic maps fun and interactive while teaching earth sciences

The Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox allows students and the public to interact with a miniature landscape, sculpting mountains, valleys, rivers and even volcanoes, with off the shelf readily available parts.

Users can create topography models by shaping real sand, which is then augmented in real time by an elevation color map, topographic contour lines, and simulated water.

The system teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts such as how to read a topo map, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees and more. Topographic maps are crucial tools used by geologists, geographers, land and floodplain managers, planners and adventurous hikers.

The AR Sandbox prototype was developed at the Keck Center for Active Visualization in Earth Science (KeckCAVES) at the University of California (UC), Davis), and was initially launched in museum settings in 2012.

According to EOS.org, the AR Sandbox prototype became an interactive public exhibit for science education as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF)–funded project called LakeViz3D. This collaboration of scientists, science educators, evaluators, museum professionals, and media developers created 3-D visualizations to help improve public understanding and stewardship of freshwater ecosystems.

Also, land management and planning agencies can test environmental change scenarios in an AR Sandbox to inform decisions related to natural disaster planning. And it’s a cool, fun way to educate kids and the public about earth sciences as shown in below video…

The 3-D software used to create the AR Sandbox is open source and freely available online, together with the sandbox blueprints, a facilitator’s guide (support and ideas for teaching with the sandbox), and a public forum for help troubleshooting sandbox issues or to post questions and suggestions.

An AR Sandbox requires the following hardware components:

  • A computer with a high-end graphics card running Linux.
  • A Microsoft Kinect 3D camera.  
  • A digital video projector with a digital video interface, such as HDMI, DVI, or DisplayPort.
  • A sandbox with a way to mount the Kinect camera and projector above sandbox.
  • Sand.

UC Davis provides detailed information, videos and forum support on what schools, organizations and others need to build your own AR Sandbox:

Currently there are over 150 exhibits around the world so use this interactive map to see if there is an AR Sandbox near you, and learn more at https://arsandbox.ucdavis.edu/.

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