Playing in the interactive sandbox

The intuitive digital experience of an interactive sandbox.

Playing in the interactive sandbox
Interactive sandbox with topographic lines projected on the sand

It is summer, and we are taking it easy for a while. But I saw an interactive sandbox on LinkedIn and after some enquiries it turned out, there was such a sandbox at in a geographic theme park. I didn't just want to see it, I wanted to experience it.

What is an interactive sandbox?

The more formal name is Augmented REality Sandbox (ARES, also the god of war) and it came out of a project by the American army. As an improvement on the sand tables that have been used for centuries to simulate the battlefield.

The sand on the sand table is enriched with a projection, for example with contour lines or relief colours. As the sand moves and is moved, a depth sensor (Kinect) and a computer adjust the projection to the changes.

Sandbox, beamer, depth sensor and a computer. 

On request, for example by holding your hand above it, you can make it rain or produce lava. You can then make that liquid or mass flow through the sand/landscape.

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Making things digitally tangible

These interactive sand tables are fun to play with. In the fortress, where there was one, children, and adults alike crowded around it to play. This digitally enhanced table also plays a role in education. It requires no manual, no explanation, you can start working with it immediately. It is extremely intuitive, and you can get to work digitally, interactively, without even touching a computer or device.

Personally, I was fascinated by the interaction. Not swiping across a screen, moving a mouse or tapping a keyboard, but just a table with sand as input. And unlike movements, there is a direct contact with a matter, with the sand. I had actually never experienced this before, and it had an almost magical effect and was more than worth the visit to the fortress. I recommend playing with it or taking the children to a place where they have such a device.

Making digital tangible.