Learn Science With An Augmented Reality Sandbox

Learn Science With An Augmented Reality Sandbox

The Shaping Our Worlds AR Sandbox can make many slow, large, and complex Earth processes more apparent and tangible.

Developed by the LakeViz3D project at the University of California, the sandbox uses a computer projector and a Microsoft Kinect 3D camera mounted above a box of sand. The user shapes the sand in the box to make hills and valleys, and the camera detects the distance to the sand below. A 3D model of the sand surface is used to project contour lines and a colour-coded elevation map. When the camera senses an object (such as a hand) at a specified height above the sand surface, virtual rain appears on the sand. A flow simulation model moves the water across the landscape.

The equipment was originally designed for a museum setting but is now used in more than 150 universities, research centres, conferences, and schools around the world. Teachers and lecturers can use the sandbox to explain a wide range of Earth science concepts in an interactive way. For instance, they can show—and encourage students to build—the varied landforms found on Earth’s surface and illustrate how they were created by a variety of processes such as flooding, erosion, tectonics, and glaciation.

Earth science researchers can also use AR sandboxes to project a variety of Earth observation data (e.g., satellite images, vegetation indices, solar radiation) onto 3D landscape models to better visualise and understand the data. The 3D software is freely available
online, along with guidelines for building a sandbox and teaching ideas. 

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