With this exhibit, you will see how Augmented Reality, which links the real world with the virtual computer-generated world, can be used in education.
We have intensively worked on the exhibit for a couple of months. Its creation in its current form required a lot of patience, great precision and a good deal of inventiveness on the part of our designers and constructors. Their efforts produced excellent results. We got an exhibit that develops spatial imagination and is extremely attractive in terms of its interactivity.
An image of a map and a rainfall simulation are projected onto an actual terrain model. By changing the shape of the terrain model, the visitor can see in real time how this impacts the appearance of the map. The exhibit develops spatial imagination. It shows how to draw hypsometric maps and helps you understand their structure. It teaches you what contour lines are and how map colouring can reflect the terrain relief.
During the implementation of the exhibit, we used free (open-source) software for space scaling and 3D modelling, developed by scientists from the University of California in Davis and funded by the American National Science Foundation. The free license makes it possible to use and modify the software free of charge. Its adjustment to our needs demanded, on the part of our specialists, spending number of hours on very accurate measurements and calculations. The exhibit works perfectly, among other things thanks to a proper calibration of the software parameters, that is to their precise adjustment to the size and shape of our exhibit.
The exhibit provides a high level of interactivity: not only does the visitor shape the terrain on their own and change the map image in real time by touching the sand but also they can simulate precipitation. If they place their hand between the top-mounted distance sensor and the sandbox, their hand will be automatically interpreted by the software as a cloud and a rainfall will occur in the area underneath. The rainfall simulation additionally enhances the exhibit’s attractiveness by enabling the user to experiment with the impact of the terrain relief on the formation of water reservoirs.
The design of the Sandbox is based on our experience gained during the presentation of the prototype version of the exhibit in the Copernicus in 2016 and during the operation of a similar exhibit that was a part of the temporary Sail or Sink exhibition we hosted in 2017.
The exhibit that we have created consists of a box on metal legs, lined with white laminate and filled with artificial sand as well as metal scaffolding located on top of it. On the top of the scaffolding installed are two devices: a camera equipped with distance sensors and a projector, which are synchronized with each other and connected to the mapping software. In the prototyping phase, the place of the scaffolding was taken by a boom-equipped support, but this solution proved unsuccessful. The structure turned out to be too weak and susceptible to manipulation by visitors, which exposed the delicate devices installed on it to decalibration. We equipped the sandbox with a laser projector, which is more economical in the long-term than tube projectors and requires practically no maintenance. In accordance with software requirements, our exhibit uses modern technology used in interactive computer games for tracking the player’s movements. This means specifically a sensor from the Xbox One console, which allows you to control the characters on the screen with your own body movements.
The functioning of the devices connected to the mapping software is easy in our exhibit. The camera equipped with distance sensors (Kinect) scans the area within its range. The software then processes the scanned terrain data and draws a coloured map with contour lines (which indicate specific altitudes). Finally, the projector projects a computer-generated image on the actual terrain relief, i.e. the sand formed by the hands of the visitor.
During our work, we experimented with various materials for shaping the terrain model. We gave up on the regular sand pretty quickly: when it is dry, it is difficult to shape a diversified terrain relief and when it is wet it does not meet the long-term hygienic standards. However, kinetic sand, which is as elastic as clay because it contains a special polymer admixture, turned out to be a great attraction. Nevertheless, we decided not to use this material after prototype testing because the interaction with it was so pleasant and physically engaging that it distracted the visitors from the contents of the exhibit and the sand kept disappearing from the box… Finally, we decided to use glass granulate, i.e. tiny glass balls that resemble fine-grained sand. This material has all the desired properties: it is sterile and relatively cheap, does not tire or injure hands, has a longer service life and is easy to replace.
„Sandbox” will integrate the exhibition space on the 6th of April 2018, after the opening of the currently rearranged east part of the upper floor.