It's the sandbox of the future.
In one of the coolest applications of augmented reality, some of the folks at the UC Davis W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences have developed a sandbox that acts as a real-time interactive, maleable topographical map, complete with contour lines and color shading.
As seen in the above video, the topography can be adjusted with a shovel, rake or by hand. Valleys are represented by various shades of green and hills by shades of red. Want to add water? Simply hold your hand over a valley and the hole is "filled" with streaming blue.
Here's how it works: An Xbox Kinect images the topography of the sandbox and sends the data to a computer. After that, "the resulting topographic surface is then rendered from the point of view of the data projector suspended above the sandbox," according to the project's home page, "with the effect that the projected topography exactly matches the real sand topography."
Funded with the help of the National Science Foundation, the project is intended to bring a hands-on approach to the teaching of Earth science.
"The final product is supposed to be self-contained to the point where it can be used as a hands-on exhibit in science museums with little supervision," the project directors write.
This sandbox isn't the first of its kind. As the project directors note, this augmented reality sandbox was inspired by a video from Czech researchers that came out last fall. And The Verge's Dante D'Orazio reminds us of the augmented reality coffee table that uses a Kinect, PlayStation Eye and lasers to create a 3-D experience.
Oliver Kreylos, one of the researchers who's involved with the sandbox (the project homepage lives on his website), has uploaded other videos of his work, including the creation of "holographic" and 3-D images using hacked Kinects.
For more on the video, click over to the project's home page. And click here for "Virtual Dam Failure and Fun with Water," another video showing the sandbox in action.