With today’s technology, it’s never been a better time to be a kid playing in a sandbox, and it's all thanks to researchers from UC Davis. The research team, headed by Oliver Kreylos, has designed an ‘Augmented Reality Sandbox’ as an interactive teaching tool for children to learn about earth sciences in places such as museums. The box can be configured for a myriad of topographical real-time representations at a scale of 1:100 and includes the ability to make it rain as well as water-flow simulations. To accomplish these feats, the team used a closed-looped Microsoft Kinect camera that grabs movement and objects at a rate of 30 fps. Then the system feeds the information to a computer running a combination of software derived from the Vrui VR development tool-kit and the Kinect 3D video processing framework.
The software, driven by a Nvidia GeForce 580 GTX, takes the information provided by the Kinect sensor and compiles a real-time topographical image complete with an elevation color map, topographical contour lines and simulated water based on how the sand is arranged inside the box itself. All the rendered graphics and real-time information is then projected back onto the sandbox using an overhead 3D data projector giving the viewer an unobstructed visual 3D model. While it may be a great learning tool, it makes me want to break out my MechWarrior Battle-Mechs and have a really cool war on a field with destructible terrain!