The Loh Down On Science

Finally! Bringing sandboxes into the 21st century.

Julie Silverman/ECHO Lake Aquarium

Children "make it rain" over an augmented reality sandbox created by UC Davis researchers at ECHO Lake Aquarium in Vermont, the first science center to receive the "Shaping Watersheds Interactive Sandbox" exhibit. The Tahoe Science Center opened its sandbox exhibit in July 2013, and another is housed at UC Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science.

Don’t throw sand!  Unless you do it by computer.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Sandboxes are simple, right?  Push sand around.  Throw some and get in trouble.

Now, earth scientists at the University of California, Davis, are taking sandboxes to the next level. They're using augmented reality, or AR, to create moving, interactive maps, made of sand.

The point?  To help children learn how watersheds work.

The researchers position a 3-D motion-sensing camera above a sandbox.  The camera’s images are filtered by software that removes objects like hands and tools, leaving only sand.  The software also senses the sand’s contours.  It overlays an accurate, topographic map onto the sand, complete with elevation lines and shading.

Finally, a projector casts that image back on the sandbox.  Result?  A 3-D sand map!  Its contour lines change, in real time, as users move sand!  What’s more?  Hold a hand over the sandbox, and virtual rain flows.  Build a dam and the virtual water pools.  Fun for kids and adults!

Just keep kitties away. You know what they use sandboxes for.

Watch a video of the sandbox in use:

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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