New Gallery Exhibit: Augmented Reality Sandbox


The Autodesk Gallery at One Market in San Francisco celebrates design — the process of taking a great idea and turning it into a reality. With about 60 different exhibits regularly on display that showcase the innovative work of Autodesk customers, the gallery illustrates the role technology plays in great design and engineering.

Virtual reality is an artificial world consisting of images and sounds created by a computer that is affected by the actions of a person experiencing it. Most first-person video games are examples of virtual reality. Augmented reality is an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device such as a camera on a smartphone. When the Yelp application overlays restaurant names on top of a smartphone's street view, that's augmented reality.

One of our newest exhibits is the augmented reality sandbox.




  • Autodesk InfraWorks 360 // more
  • UC Davis customized software

Here's how the description on the exhibit reads.

Welcome to playtime-augmented reality style. Overlaying digital information on the physical world, augmented reality enhances real world experience by providing data about a task or thing that otherwise wouldn't be there.

This sandbox, created by UC Davis researchers, enables you to physically manipulate the landscape and overlay the terrain with digital information, displaying dynamic changes in topological conditions, such as rainfall, water flow, and alterations in elevation.,

Importing this "what if" data into Autodesk InfraWorks — a BIM design tool for Civil Engineering — helps engineers make better design choices and communicate hard to grasp geographic concepts to shareholders.

If you visit the gallery, here's what you can do with this exhibit:

  • Physically move the sand around with your hands and watch the contour lines redraw. Changes to the physical environment impact what the exhibit displays.
  • Make an open-hand gesture to make it virtually rain in sections of the terrain. You can watch the virtual water flow based on the terrain. Based on the physical environment, the exhibit augments the terrain with virtually flowing water.
  • Physically trace a path in the sand with your finger and see how it affects the flow of water. The exhibit responds to changes in the physical environment and adjusts its augmentation accordingly.

It's not black magic. A Kinect unit is an inexpensive scanner. As changes are made by moving the sand by hands or fingers, the Kinect captures the resulting terrain as a 3D model. This is fed into customized software from UC Davis that generates the updated, corresponding contour lines. When the Kinect recognizes the gesture for rainfall, water is added to the 3D model. The UC Davis software then simulates the resulting flow. All of these changes are projected onto the physical sand.

There is a PC next to the sandbox with 2 buttons:

  • The green button loads the terrain from the sandbox into InfraWorks 360 that is running in the cloud and displayed on the PC.
  • The orange button drains the water added by the open-hand gesture from the sandbox.

This exhibit is the result of a National Science Foundation-funded project on informal science education for freshwater lake and watershed science developed by the UC Davis W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES), together with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, Lawrence Hall of Science, and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center. The project combines 3D visualization with a hands-on sandbox exhibit, originally conceived as a way to teach earth science concepts.

InfraWorks 360 is a Building Information Modeling (BIM) design tool for Civil Engineers. It helps them design "what could be" in the context of "what is." Traditional civil engineering software generates 2D plans that are used to communicate designs to stakeholders and constructors. InfraWorks 360 leverages a 3D environment that includes context around the site being designed, and this context helps the engineer make better design choices and clearly communicate those choices with stakeholders not well versed in traditional 2D plans.

The Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a guided tour on Wednesdays at 12:30 pm and a self-guided audio tour available anytime. Admission is free. Visit us.

The sandbox is alive in the lab.