Augmented Reality Sandbox

Creating interactive simulations to communicate complex information

As digital technologies become increasingly integrated into daily life, the mouse, keyboard, and touchscreen remain the main ways that we interact with them. These interfaces bridge the divide between the user and computer, but other forms of interface could remove this divide and allow us to interact with technologies in a more natural way.

The Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox is one example of such an interface. Initially developed as part of a Winter Scholarship Project, it uses a Microsoft Kinect, a projector and a table full of sand to create interactive environments. Digging and moving the sand changes the simulated environment, and allows people to engage easily with complex content.

This video highlights some of the current capabilities of the AR Sandbox

We rewrote the Sandbox software from scratch, incorporating heavy use of GPU acceleration for simulations and significantly improving the user interface, simplifying the calibration, and using the Kinect II for depth detection.

A number of simulations have been developed, including an environment where contour lines are projected onto the sand whilst simulated water flows freely, and a dynamic ant colony simulation based on real ant behaviour.

Most recently a geology simulation has been developed that looks at the way that geological beds breach the surface of the sandbox. This is being used by the Faculty of Earth, Atmosphere and Environmental Science as an immersive teaching aid.

In Collaboration With

Lachlan Smith


Lachlan Smith reflected on how the sandbox has evolved since the project began back in 2016.

‘Virtual Reality Sandpit Simulating Ant Colonies’ won the best demo paper award at the 2018 IEEE Intl Conference on Multimedia & Expo in San Diego, CA