The Augmented-Reality Sandbox

Alaska EPSCoR’s most exciting outreach tool puts the whole world in your hands.

The “Augmented-Reality Sandbox” uses an overhead projector to turn a box full of sand into an interactive topographic map. When people manipulate the sand, their hills and valleys are translated into contour lines and colored elevations. When a user hovers their hand over the device, it functions as a cloud and virtual rain pours onto the landscape, creating channels and pooling in the valleys.

The original Augmented-Reality Sandbox was invented and developed by the Kreylos Lab at the University of California-Davis under an NSF Award. EPSCoR and the technicians at the Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA) recognized the sandbox's value in teaching concepts of landscape change and hydrology in a dynamic and engaging way, and built their own model. The success of the original model led GINA to commission a group of UAF Mechanical Engineering undergraduate students to design and build a portable version as their senior project.

EPSCoR now owns and operates three sandboxes, two of which are designed for easy portability, and the first of which is now a permanent installation at the Fairbanks Children’s Museum under the co-management of the AmericaView program. Future goals include offering it for use to EarthScope for their outreach and education programs.

The touring sandboxes have proven to be exceptionally popular, sparking interest and drawing crowds everywhere from Nome to Washington, D.C. They've also received a great deal of media attention, including a three-part series on the National Weather Service's "Alaska Weather Facts" program. A brief introductory video is also below.

EPSCoR has also developed educational curricula for grades 6-12 that use the sandbox as a tool to teach about topography and water flow.

 
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