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Topographic Maps Come to Life with Augmented Reality Sandbox

Topographic Maps Come to Life with Augmented Reality Sandbox

Sandboxes, which were really popular among future geographers, geologists and architects a few decades back have now lost their charm. They have almost disappeared from the play-areas. But, with augmented reality, they are now making a comeback. This has been partially possible due to the work of Oliver Kreylos, a geological data visualization professor at University of California Davis. With his open source software, the rest of the work was completed by representatives from the Geographic Information Network of Alaska, of the University of Alaska. The project debuted at the Alaska Conference on Surveying and Mapping.

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Augmented Reality for Topographical Maps

The sandbox was placed at the conference and drew the attention of many curious conference goers. The representatives, Greg Wirth and Will Fisher projected a topographical map above the sand with the help of a projector. This projection showed the contour lines of the tiny hills and mountains of the sandbox, just like a quadrangle map from the United States Geological Survey.

When someone creates a large mound with the sand in the box, the mound will appear as a large mountain looming over the surrounding plains, on the overlay. If they hold their hand about 8 inches above the sand, rain will start pouring on the landscape below. This is because the projector reads the movement of the hand as a cloud hovering over the plains. Virtual water fills the valleys and flows down along the channels from the mountain tops.

This is possible with augmented reality technology and will help people to connect their real world environment with the topographical maps they view. A 3D topography helps in understanding the environment in a much better way than a simple topographical map, as you can see how the change in the landscape, changes these topography lines.

Specifications of the Project

Wirth, Fisher and Dayne Broderson created their own version of augmented reality sandbox by taking idea from a video in the Internet. To create this AR project, they used the open-source software that Kreylos had developed. Other important components which were used for this project included a projector, Microsoft Kinect, some spare parts and sand. Linux runs the software. So, they tweaked the software a bit to suit their purpose.

The EPSCoR-ACE program at UAF provided the funds for this project. EPSCoR is the acronym for Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research and ACE is the acronym for Adapting to changing Environments. Around $8000 was provided to Fisher and Wirth’s group so that they could fulfill their vision.

Only the prototype of the AR sandbox has been showcased in the conference. They hope to create a much refined version of the project in future with a better user interface. This will be helpful for the teachers and students alike.

Image Source – www.wired.com

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