Augmented Reality Sandbox – Custom Build

Many of you have seen an augmented reality sandbox at your local museum, but did you know it’s pretty easy to DIY? A few months ago in our Chicago gamedev Fantasy Football League, someone posted a video of kids digging around in sand. Except, that’s not all that was happening. The sand changed as they dug, projecting mountains, flowing rivers, grass, and even volcanoes complete with gushing lava on top of the surface.

I decided to make one. Think of the possibilities!

The Prototype

Every project starts with a simple sketch. This project needed to be built at a 4:3 aspect ratio, and being that projectors and hardware aren’t quite up to tolerating a 4 yard by 3 yard box, I decided to go for a simple 4′ x 3′ sandbox, elevated about 30″ off the ground. Here’s the original sandbox design:

Initial Augmented Reality Sandbox sketch

The Build

We drove out to the local hardware store and picked up some standard bags of sand, 2x4s, 2x6s, 4x4s, and plywood for the base. I also purchased a plastic liner to better contain the sand. The entire build took a few hours total.

After that, I built the PC to drive the entire system. We had an older (but really well-equipped) computer laying around that I reformatted and put Ubuntu on. Then I loaded the software required to get the project running with the Microsoft Kinect, and ran tests.

Impatient to get this thing off the road, I skipped further calibration steps in order to verify it worked. Okay, I just wanted to play with it. But more importantly, the kids at SpaceLab that day wanted to play with it. Here’s the result:


That’s it for now. Future plans revolve around reinterpreting the sandbox data back onto the computer, then use that to mirror what’s happening on the sand in Minecraft. Basically creating a physical way to manipulate the game.

Sound fun? You can follow the progress of this project, and other projects of mine, by checking out my project builds.