More about our portable AR Sandbox

About the design of the Nova Labs AR Sandbox

This was our handout at the 2018 Nova Maker Faire


! Title Nicks Powerpoint Sandbox Display
2 Links and QR codes
3 Design features
4 Flowing Water
5 Magic Sand Thom Wolfe
6 Sand colors
7 Nova Labs design
8 Hardware
9 How It Works
10 Frame by Elena

Inside the Box

AR Sandbox – What’s in the Box?

The AR Sandbox at Nova Labs maker space presents an augmented reality display by means of:

  • a Kinect depth-sensing camera
  • a digital projector and
  • a laptop computer


Kinect XBOX360
Model 1473 Camera

Infrared depth-sensing camera


iDGLAX Model iDG-787W

Brightness: Claims range from 1500 lumens to 300 lumens (probably the lesser); LED lamp
Dimensions: 8 x 6 x 3 inches


Dell Inspiron 3542 laptop (2014)
CPU Intel Pentium 3558U
(1.7GHz) 2 core
4GB RAM, integrated graphics
(not very fast but adequate for the Magic Sand software)


The Kinect camera and the projector are mounted approximately 3 to 4 feet above the sandbox. For our first exhibit at Nova Labs, we mounted the Kinect and the projector on a tripod. Later a metal support was attached to the sandbox frame.

Tripod board

Tripod and Mount

Tripod – Promaster 6400
(extends to 70 inches)

Mounting Board

The mounting board is a piece of plywood, 3/8-inch thick and 12 inches square. The projector is attached to the mounting board with Velcro straps. The Kinect is screwed onto a small 4-inch square plate.

Mounting Board Kinect camera and iDGLAX projector on board
On the back of the mounting board, a U-shaped metal plate is attached to the tripod. back of mount board

The Nova Labs AR Sandbox is a modification of the designs presented by Oliver Kreylos at University of California Davis, USA, and Thom Wolf / Rasmus Paulsen in Europe. Our sandbox is portable and inexpensive. We were able to construct it at a cost of less than $175. The Nova Labs AR Sandbox uses Windows software authored by Wolf and Paulsen. We found it easier to work with than the Linux-based programs from UC Davis.

Instructions for building an AR Sandbox can be found:


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