Chop down mountains with the edge of your hand in this augmented-reality sandbox

With the popularity of augmented and virtual reality at what appears to be an all-time high, researchers all over the world have started finding new and unique ways to implement the futuristic tech. While most projects seem to be focused on gaming, a group of researchers from UC Davis and UCLA have devised an educational use for augmented reality — one that gives people the ability to interact with a topographical map like never before. Basically, this crazy AR sandbox allows people to literally move mountains with their hands. Check it out in the video above.

By utilizing a Xbox Kinect sensor, a projector, and a physical sandbox, the researchers built an incredibly responsive program capable of not only reading changes made in the sand, but also reacting to them in real time. By simply altering the layout of the sandbox, users can create towering mountains and volcanos, or water-filled valleys and rivers. When a user creates valleys and peaks, the Kinect sensor quickly detects the modifications and applies real-time topographical changes. Moreover, the software allows users to create falling rain onto the map by just raising their hands over the sandbox. As it falls, the rain erodes some of the landscape and pools into pits and valleys.

The idea for this project was born from a desire to give undergraduate students hands-on ways to study science. After a group of researchers at UC Davis developed the AR sandbox, UCLA’s Modeling and Educational Demonstrations Laboratory applied the topographical feature to create the finished product. This hands-on approach to topography gives students the ability to shape and influence landscapes however they please. The team hopes the system will give students a better understanding of various terrain even when the sandbox is unavailable — i.e. when they’re are actually outdoors.

While this looks like an incredibly fun tool to mess around with, for the moment, the sandbox is currently only available to students attending UCLA. Nevertheless, this is one of the most unique takes on augmented reality we’ve come across and showcases  this revolutionary tech isn’t merely just a phase.

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