Oliver Kreylos at UC Davis has just posted this video showing an amazing hands on "augmented reality" (AR) tool built with a sandbox, Microsoft Kinect sensor, and a digital projector. From the project home page:
Together with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, Lawrence Hall of Science, and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, we are involved in an NSF-funded project on informal science education for freshwater lake and watershed science. As part of this project, we are primarily developing 3D visualization applications to teach earth science concepts, but we also built a hands-on exhibit combining a real sandbox, and virtual topography and water created using a closed loop of a Microsoft Kinect 3D camera, powerful simulation and visualization software, and a data projector. The resulting augmented reality (AR) sandbox allows users to create topography models by shaping real sand, which is then augmented in real time by an elevation color map, topographic contour lines, and simulated water. The system teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts such as how to read a topography map, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees, etc.
This project was inspired by a video created by a group of Czech researchers, who demonstrate an early prototype of an AR sandbox with elevation color mapping and some limited form of fluid flow. There is an even earlier project, Project Mimicry, of which we learned only later; it also appears to only be in early testing phase.I'd seen the Czech work, but Oliver's team has taken this a step further, and apparently open-source code is forthcoming. This has huge implications for our Emriver models, I think; just drawing the contours seen in these videos would be immensely useful for teaching.
We were able to test a Kinect system at the University of Illinois last month, and through a bit of play and talking to the students working with it, we determined it's resolution was good enough for visualizations like this but probably not good enough for research measurements.
Here's another video from his YouTube channel. Geomorphoglists will note there is one part of reality clearly missing in this dam failure visualization -- erosion and sediment transport! Still an amazing achievment.