When I was a kid, I had a small plastic sandbox on my patio in the shape of a turtle. It came with a little turtle shell cover to keep the sand clean and safe when I wasn’t playing with it, but looking back on it as an adult, that stuff still probably wasn’t all that sanitary. Still, it was always one of my favorite things to play with as a child, even if it annoyed my parents, and I’m guessing I wasn’t alone in that. It could never quite replace the joy I got from videogames, but sometimes you just need to reach out and, you know, actually touch something.
With all that in mind, UCLA’s newest teaching tool manages to combine both the spectacle of videogames with the pure physical fun of sandboxes in an experience that would have had my child self practically praying to Santa for it. Dubbed the “Augmented Reality Sandbox,” the premise is really quite simple—take a sandbox, mount a Kinect over it, and use the Kinect to track the movements of the sand in real-time and overlay projected graphics onto it.
The result is a series of hills, valleys, and even lakes that you can manipulate to your heart’s content just by shifting the sand around. It almost reminds me a little bit of From Dust, but with the added benefit of physical interaction and, well, playing with sand. You can even use a gesture to drop rain on the world, adding to the water projected on the sandbox and fulfilling all your nightclub dreams of “making it rain.”
The idea is to use the Augmented Reality Sandbox to simulate geological concepts in the classroom and thus help college students more easily understand the lay of the land. That said, maybe if I’m extra good this year, Santa will be kind enough to bring me a home version? Pretty please?