May 7, 2012 at 1:48 PM ET
Plastic buckets and shovels in a big box of sand is so old school. Today’s sandbox is getting a high tech, augmented-reality makeover that is teaching kids big and small topographic map-reading skills as they sculpt mountains and streams.
The augmented reality sandbox combines a real sandbox with virtual topography and water that’s created using a Microsoft Kinect 3-D camera, simulation and visualization software, and a data projector.
Landscapes built out of sand are “augmented in real time by an elevation color map, topographic contour lines and simulated water,” explains the researchers who developed it at the University of California at Davis.
To make it rain and see how water flows of mountains and courses into streams, just hold out your hand over the mountain top, as seen in the video below.
The sandbox was developed as an earth science teaching tool for museums and science centers, where it would be hands on with little supervision.
For more technical details on the project, check out the project web site. To be wowed, simply watch the video.