TEL AR in an unlikely Geo Park

On my way through the Scottish Highlands for a Puffin watching trip to Handa Island, I was told to pop into this little brown cafe to the side of the road. This was only a flying visit, a quick look in the shop and to have a play in a sandbox. To call it a sandbox is probably a little insulting. This sandpit allows you to build mountains and lakes, overlaying them with the terrain and topographic contours and filling the lakes with water when you form a rain cloud with your hand. Although this isn’t the most useful thing for me teaching health-related programmes, I can still appreciate this as a learning tool.  This is an excellent example of Augmented Reality (AR) which reacts to changes in its environment projecting an accurate overlay that is just fun to learn from.


The highest qualification I have in geography is a GCSE (an A though 😁) and that was in 2002. So my knowledge in geology and land movements is either non-existent or rusty. But, I don’t think this tool is really aimed at me. I think that this is a great example of learning by playing. Such a tool could be used to build valleys created through the erosion of a river or a glacier or showing what happens when you dam a river for a reservoir. I’m sure an equally excited geographer could indulge in hours of simulation of natural phenomena.


The obvious tech included a sandbox and a projector. And an obligatory spade, although it was more fun to dig with your hands. This was only a small operation, and I didn’t see anyone I could have a chat too. The information sheet shows that this was created by LakeViz in 2014.  Unfortunately, this website no longer seems to work.  And it is a shame, as this a pretty neat little tool that I would like to find out more about, not to mention what would happen to this set up if something went wrong (but, I would happily drive to the Scottish Highlands to take a look).  I have found a couple of videos on YouTube; such as this one with a prototype version from 2012, and this link to their YouTube channel that hasn’t been touched for four years.  I also found a video from 2017 from a science Vlogger, Beals Science, about the project.

This final link from Beals Science gives a little more information about a similar project to what I saw, which might even use the original LakeViz code.  This project utilises an Xbox Kinect to discover the depth (or height depending on the way you think about it) and create a map and feed this back to the engine, producing an image that is projected onto the sand as it is manipulated.  Even better is that from this video, I found a build video here!  With physical and software build details!  Apparently, the software was produced by UC Davies, and can be found here.  More than that, this software link directs you to the main pages for thee whole project and maps every sandbox built and some resources for educators.

This interactive sandbox in a small cafe in a Geo Park in the Highlands of Scotland is an example of Technology Enhanced Learning and Augmented Reality in its native environment.  It has been set in a place where it can be casually learnt from with no regard to how it as built.  But, for someone like me, I find this whole thing as exciting as the small children (and significantly older not-so-children) who are just using it for what it is.


I think this may be a RPi project for the future, how about adapting this for health and producing an AR overlay of an amputation with a true blood volume projected onto the floor?  I think I need to get back into my hobby room…


A quick recording of my girlfriend demonstrating the AR Sandbox

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