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The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIC) has unveiled an augmented reality sandbox

North Idaho College natural sciences students are being able to avail features that even allow them to displace valleys and mountains.

An augmented reality (AR) sandbox is fundamentally a highly advanced and dynamic gadget capable of displaying altitude contours on sand which can be edited to mimic natural features like valleys, mountains, ridges, rivers, and seas, has been installed at the campus. The AR setup consists of a highly sensitive Kinect camera that can identify sand changes instantly, along with a high-quality powerful projector from BenQ. It shows colour maps of the elevations, along with realistic water representations, and contour markings.

During his geology lab on April 14, Bill Richards, NIC Associate Professor of Geology, used the augmented reality playground to recreate the geomorphologic repercussions of Mount St. Helens erupting. His pupils established ridges from the sand to graphically rectify the three-dimensional showcase, along with the topographic depiction of features like crests, spurs and ridges.

According to Richards, The kit assists the teachers in conceptualising course work without any delay. He said that during the very first day of having the feature in the institution’s labs, the sandbox proved to be quite an intriguing tool that deserved some experimentation.

The AR sandbox will be used beyond the realms of college laboratories like the one at NIC.

According to Richards, NIC’s augmented reality sandbox was designed to be portable, allowing NIC programmes to transport the equipment to art, science, math, technology, and engineering exhibits, along with outreach programmes, and several other classrooms in the vicinity.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis’ W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences created the AR sandbox back in the 2000s. Because UC-Davis released the programme to the public, establishing an AR playground is therefore inexpensive and quite straightforward. According to Richards, the sandbox was funded through two sources.

The first one is from Idaho INBRE whilst the other is from the NIC Foundation. The physical sandbox framework was developed by employees of NIC , whilst NIC IT Help Desk staff assisted in building up the computer programme and adjusting both the camera and projector.

The augmented reality sandbox displays more than elevation data. It also illustrates where it will rain and how, what places will have a flood, and how water will evaporate across different settings. As a result, users of the sandbox technology can easily learn about hydrology, and anticipate the route of forest fires when viewed in reverse.


Cyan Froney, a NIC Outdoor Recreation Leadership student at Coeur d’Alene,  is set to become a graduate in spring of 2022. According to Froney, the AR sandbox present in her geology class provides an innovative experience.

Froney remarked that observing the sandbox technology in three dimensions was an interesting experience, revealing that gaining a closer understanding of hydrology actually works. The AR sandbox is giving students fresher perspectives into how many things in nature function, and this improves their understanding.

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