Photoshopped Nova Labs Signage

Nova Labs is a maker-space in Reston, Virginia, outside of Washington DC. In the summer of 2017 a group of makers decided to make an Augmented Reality Sandbox. We succeeded (finally) and exhibited our AR Sandbox on December 2, 2017 at the Nova Labs Maker Market.

How we made the sandbox we’ll explain later, but first…

What Is an Augmented Reality Sandbox?

An Augmented Reality Sandbox consists of a container of sand, a Kinect depth-sensor camera, a projector, a computer and software.

AR Sandbox components

The Kinect infrared camera and a digital projector are mounted above the sandbox, and both camera and projector are connected to the computer via cables (HDMI cable for the projector and USB cable for the Kinect).

When someone moves the sand in the sandbox, the Kinect camera calculates the height of the sand (distance from the camera) and sends this information to the computer. Meanwhile, software is projecting colors, topographic map lines and images onto the sandbox. As you move the sand around, the colors change and so do the map lines and images.

Elevated sand (mountains) is red; valleys range from green to blue (water). Depending on your software, if there is a game there will be other images projected on the sand also.

Sand colors in AR Sandbox

Who invented the AR Sandbox?

Oliver Kreylos created a virtual reality software called VRUI (Virtual Reality User Interface) which is the basis for the sandbox. The original AR Sandbox was developed by Kreylos at the University of California Davis. The UC Davis AR Sandbox website has complete instructions and software download for building an AR Sandbox running on a Linux or Apple operating system.

There are now AR sandboxes all over the world, with various modifications. Here is a photo of our Nova Labs AR Sandbox in Reston, Virginia. It actually uses a Windows version adapted from the UC Davis software, made by Thomas Wolf in The Netherlands with some games written by Wolf and Rasmus R. Paulsen. Instructions for Wolf’s “Magic Sand” AR sandbox are here and the Magic Sand Github page is here.

Nova Labs AR Sandbox


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