Build An Augmented Reality Sandbox With Real-Time Topography

Perhaps you never thought of a sandbox as a piece of technology or a learning tool, but with a little work it can be both. Developer Oliver Kreylos and her team at UC Davis utilised the Microsoft Kinect to turn a sandbox into an auto-updating topographical map. And you can build one, too.

You can see the finished product in the video above. It's incredibly intuitive. You just create valleys and peaks out of sand, the Kinect senses the depth you've created, and updates a projected image to accurately colour-code the topographical differences. Here's what you'll need:

  • A sandbox (with sand, of course)
  • A reasonably powerful computer
  • A projector (an inexpensive pico projector will do)
  • A Microsoft Kinect (generally about 40% cheaper if you get a refurbished one)

Although not the cheapest project ever, you might already have most (if not all) of the tools you need. Perhaps it's due to my gadget obsession, but I actually have everything but the necessary quantity of sand (because, for some reason, I happen to have a jar of sand in my home). If you need to pick up a few items, consult the suggestions in the list above for inexpensive options.

You can find the full instructions on Oliver's site so you can learn how to hook everything up and calibrate your Kinect and projector for this sort of work. And with that effort, you can create a pretty awesome learning tool for your kids or just to show off to your friends. Not all augmented reality projects have to result in a living nightmare, right?

Build your own Augmented Reality Sandbox [Doc-OK via WonderHowTo]



    Topographic features exist because of the interaction of physical processes, so I don't anticipate this would make believable terrain.

    They had a very similar set up at an exhibit at Scitech in Perth back in 2013. It's was very very cool, any really engaging for the kids.

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