Augmented Reality Sandbox comes to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

What is Augmented Reality Sand? To describe it in one word – Awesome. In fact, if you come into the Swap Shop and we aren’t at the desk, check to see if we are playing in the sandbox.

It was developed by University of California Davis’ W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences and was supported by the National Science Foundation.  It combines 3D visualization applications with a hands-on sandbox exhibit to teach about earth science concepts.   It uses a computer projector and a motion sensing input device (Xbox 360 Kinect 3D camera).  By changing the levels of the sand, the Kinect detects the distance to the sand below and elevation is projected on the sand, complete with color and contour lines.  Already sounds amazing doesn’t it?  Ever wish you could create your own lake on a hot day?  Or build a mountain to climb?    You can even hold your hand out about 2 feet above the sand surface and the program will simulate rain.  The rain will drain into the lowest lying areas in the sand.  Watersheds, mountains, lakes, rivers.  You can make them all!

If we are in a drought, freshwater is not being added to the watershed. A watershed is an area of land which drains to a specific point.  (such as the Clear Lake watershed or the Armand Bayou watershed) That lack of rain causes lots of problems.  Let’s start with our drinking water.  We need it for survival – I mean how would we even make coffee in the mornings??  Then, think about our lawns and all the plants around us.  They all need water to survive too. So, do our pets and wild animals – birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.  The issues don’t stop there.  If there isn’t freshwater from rainfall coming into the watersheds it can even have an impact on the bay.  If enough freshwater isn’t coming into the bay from the watersheds, the salt (or salinity) goes up.  That change in salinity can have an adverse effect on plants and animals both.  One example is that oysters cannot thrive in a salt level that is too high.  And, oysters are big business on the gulf coast.  Water is critical to all forms of life – both plant and animal.  Understanding water cycles and how a water shed works is fundamental to protecting that valuable resource.

And the other side of that same coin – floods. We are well versed in flooding in our area, aren’t we?  What have we seen when hurricanes bring a storm surge?  Or when a tropical storm stalls out in our area?  Sometimes the drainage can’t keep up and the watershed has more water than it can handle.  The rising water can not only cause damage to property but, sometimes even lives are lost.  Flooding invades areas that animals would normally be living in causing them to lose their habitat and can cause problems with all the plants around us and leave us stranded.

The goal of the Augmented Reality Sandbox is for our guests to learn about topography, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees and more. We want to raise public awareness and increase understanding and stewardship of freshwater ecosystems.  We hope you will come by and check out the new sandbox.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.

Click here to learn more about Augmented Reality Sand and even find out how to build your own.