Virtual reality is often reliant on goggles and a first-person viewpoint, which can be limiting in the classroom without significant investment into the infrastructure.
Augmented reality is a similar idea, with technology providing an immersive overlay of information onto generally static objects, providing a deeper level of engagement that might include providing details about a building or information on walks.
One application uses the person’s phone, which when held up to historic landmarks can provide details on the building, or even events happening within it.
So, when the object you have in front of you becomes interactive, with an augmented layer projected over it, things get really interesting!
Recently, a colleague came to me asking for such a device – an Augmented Reality Sandbox.
These devices were first designed and built by researchers at UC Davis in the United States.
A simply amazing combination of interactivity and technology, students can interact with a sandbox to create a landscape which is then, in real time, overlaid with a topographical map.
There are a number of really interesting features, and the software is quite capable. Being open source, it is constantly evolving, too.
From a practical standpoint, there is a range of classroom applications that are only limited by your imagination.
For instance, we are using it for students just to play with topographical maps, using the sand to create mountains and valleys, watching the contour lines change in real time.
The surface projection can then be ‘frozen’, so you can alter it and show what a small change would do to the landscape, or how time changes real landscapes.
We also create rivers and lakes, as students can make it virtually rain, which ‘fills’ these areas with water that behaves like real water.
Changing the river system reroutes the water, and creating a ‘filled’ dam, then breaking the wall, allows the water to run out and interact with the surrounding landscape.
It is quite brilliant to watch! There is the possibility of adding volcanos and creating islands, creating labels and loading premade maps students can form sand around.
Building a sandbox is not for the faint-hearted, but with some decent skills it can be done.
We built ours from galvanised steel I welded together at home, which holds the sandbox up off the ground and has an adjustable mount for the projector and camera system.
More details on dimensions and setup should be sourced from the UC Davis site .
Ours was made a little bigger, 900mm x 1200mm for sand surface. This kept the ratios correct, but allowed a larger interactive surface, and has worked well so far.
Beyond the basic build, if you do plan to make one, source the correct computer hardware; using sub-standard equipment will not work.
It is a wonderful way to mix computer hardware with kinaesthetic learning experiences, and allows a truly immersive experience.
I can see us extending use into creating landscapes to simulate ground shift, interact with architecture, and replicate mapping from our drone; truly endless possibilities.