Design Lab takes on 3D mapping
Maps are an integral part of our daily life and are often taken for granted in the world of Waze and Google Maps. Students in the lower school study geography and mapping in nearly every grade level, and a powerful new learning tool has entered the school: The Augmented Reality Sandbox. This system was pioneered by UC Davis, and we have implemented our version of it in the Design Lab. Augmented reality is groundbreaking technology that, as the name suggests, takes our everyday surroundings and enhances it using projected light or immersive screens. This system draws a constantly-updated physical map, in real time, onto the surface of sand. Fourth grade students were involved every step of the way, from designing to cutting to filling with sand.
The sandbox is simple in principal, yet complex in execution: A 3D sensor (an old XBox Kinect) determines the height of sand in a given square millimeter, and a computer program converts that data point into a square of color, based on the height of sand at that point. That color signal is sent to a projector, which illuminates the appropriate color onto each part of the surface of the sand. Low areas are filled with blue light (representing water), the highest areas are white (representing snow-capped mountains) with a colored gradient representing intermediate heights. Topographic lines are also drawn across the surface of the sand. All of this is done in real-time!
This learning tool has incredible “wow” factor, sucking in both adults and children alike. The display invites the user to engage with it’s sparkling, brightly colored sand. The experience is both relaxing and stimulating at the same time. Multiple observers have noted that a similar setup could be used as a form of kinesthetic therapy, in addition to the more obvious uses such as teaching the concepts of contour, erosion, and topography. Students in the 4th grade immediately came up with some ‘topographic challenges’, such as modeling the Hawaiian archipelago, or mapping the terrain of Oregon, or the area surrounding where NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars. The possibilities here are endless.
Our new Design Lab project was made possible with the expertise and enthusiasm of Kent Chapple, SPS IT Manager. I appreciate his dedication as we designed, built and tested to arrive the final product. Also, I want to thank the Egeland and Bien families for their generous donations.
Ryan Lenz, SPS Design Teacher