The AR Sandbox

Our augmented reality ‘sandbox’ is available to help individuals learn about soil and water landscape features in interactive ways. 

What is an Augmented Reality Sandbox?

This tool combines 3D visualization applications with a hands-on sandbox exhibit to teach earth science concepts. The AR sandbox allows users to create topographic models by shaping real sand, which is then augmented in real time by an elevation color map, topographic contour lines, and simulated water. 

The system teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts such as how to read a topography map, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees, etc.

How does it work?

The AR Sandbox uses a computer projector and a motion-sensing input device (an Xbox 360 Kinect camera), which are mounted above the sand. The camera is calibrated to detect the 3D landscape of the sand and the height of the “raincloud” to start the rain. Open source software that was developed by UCDavis in California instantly simulates and projects the topographic and hydrologic model as users create landscapes and move water in the hands-on sandbox.

Learn about Topographic Maps and Landforms


What landforms can you make in the sandbox?

How do the contour lines change based on the landform you create?

Learn about Watersheds and Water Movement


What landforms would define watersheds? Can you make a watershed in the sandbox?

You live in a watershed! What do you think it looks like? Where does your water drain?

What would happen to your watershed if it was polluted? What about the watershed downstream?

In Memory

Ron Orebaugh

Ron Orebaugh, a longtime Supervisor and Chairman of the Delaware County SWCD, had a desire to have an Augmented Reality Sandbox available for educational purposes for schools or groups to utilize. Sadly, he passed away before his dream could become a reality. 

Thanks to his friend Jesse Landess who worked tirelessly to secure donations in Ron's memory, a 'sandbox' was purchased for use by the Disitct and affiliates.


We are thankful for the Elkhart County Soil and Water Conservation District who inspired us to purchase our own AR Sandbox after allowing us to borrow theirs.

 The Augmented Reality Sandbox was developed by the UCDavis W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES,, supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No.DRL1114663. For more information, please visit