Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox at the Alabama Museum of Natural History

[See educational resources and demonstration videos at the bottom of this page]
AR Sandbox uses aDSCF6502 computer projector and a motionsensing input device (a Kinect 3D camera) mounted above a box of sand. The visitor interacts with the exhibit by shaping the sand. The Kinect detects the distance to the sand below, and a visualization an elevation model with contour lines and a color map assigned by elevation is cast from an overhead projector onto theDSCF6507 surface of the sand. As visitors move the sand, the Kinect perceives changes in the distance to the sand surface, and the projected colors and contour lines change accordingly.







Augmented_Reality_SandboxWhen an object (for example, a hand) is sensed at a particular height above the surface of the sand, virtual rain appears as a blue, shimmering visualization on the surface below.



The water appears to flow down the slopes to lower surfaces. The water flow simulation is based on real models of
fluid dynamics
(a depth integrated version of the NavierStokes equations).



DSCF6501_2Visitors can press and hold the green button to remove (“evaporate”, “drain”) the virtual water.






This exhibit design uses a concept known as “tangible computing” in which objects in the physical world can be manipulated to alter or operate a computer program, in this case a visualization of a landscape. The camera in the bonnet of the exhibit is a Microsoft Kinect camera, the same camera used in video games. It uses an infrared projector, camera and special microchip to track the movement of objects in 3D.


Educational Resources:

A comprehensive guide (including demonstration activities): “Shaping Watersheds AR Sandbox Facilitator’s Guide”

EOS article: “Augmented Reality Turns a Sandbox into a Geoscience Lesson”

Demonstration Videos:



In the News

Crimson White – September 9, 2016

ABC3340 News – August 26, 2016


NSFlogoThis AR Sandbox was built by the Surface Dynamics Modeling Lab with support from the National Science Foundation (Award Number: 1561082). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

For more information contact Dr. Sagy Cohen: Sagy.Cohen@ua.edu

Oliver Kreylos, a computer scientist studying 3D scientific visualizations and computational geosciences at UC Davis, designed and programmed the AR sandbox software. It was then further developed and designed by a LakeViz3D project team.

See the designer’s webpages for more technical information: