Sandbox – Tangible Landscape

The augmented reality sandbox/tangible landscape project at the Center for Geospatial Research is part of a four component system, aiming to bring together multiple technologies for cutting edge data acquisition, virtual/augmented reality and geovisualization for Earth Science education and research. These components are being integrated at the Department of Geography-UGA and will create a unique 3D Immersion and Geovisualization (3DIG) experience. The 3DIG system and associated technologies should increase interest in physical geography, geology and STEM related fields.

Using 3DIG, Earth Science concepts are taught by incorporating hands-on exhibit that provides an interactive environment for students to shape landforms by modifying the real sand in the sandbox. Two Microsoft Kinect 3D cameras capture and transmit the topography in the sandbox to a computer running simulation and visualization software. Results include terrain representations using color ramps and contour lines, as well as modeling of fluid-surface interactions such as water flow. This environment provides an extremely rich experience to students and researchers, who will see in real time the results of their work. The system teaches geography, geology, hydrology and geomorphology, from basic map reading to the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, slope, and associated processes. We are currently integrating Virtual Reality goggles into the system to enhance 3D experience and Immersion.

The Tangible Landscape didn’t take long to see use by teachers, in the image above Dr. Sally Walker of the Geology Department shows her students how a rift valley forms. The center has already used the Tangible Landscape to teach geographic concepts to a wide range of audiences ranging from the UGA Middle School Hacking camp to a MapTime event hosted at local coffee shop Hendershots.

The tangible landscape framework was built entirely in-house by Associate Director Dr. Sergio Bernardes and Research Assistant Andrew Knight.  The Sandbox was designed to up to hold 200 lbs of sand and capable maneuvering into any classroom with a door frame up to 8 feet tall and 42″ wide.

The tangible landscape is always being further developed and will soon be seeing use in student projects, classrooms, and labs.

Funds for the implementation of 3DIG and the sandbox/tangible landscape are being provided by The Center for Teaching and Learning at the UGA.