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ASEE-SE Annual Conference 2022

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Snowmelt Simulations In An Augmented Reality Sandbox: A Hands-On Learning Experience

Augmented Reality(AR) Sandboxes have been used in multiple education and outreach applications since their creation by UC Davis in 2015. These sandboxes make use of a sandbox, a projector, and a depth sensor to sense the topography in the sand and calculate and project a responsive topographic height map onto the sand. AR Sandboxes can be found in schools and museums across the world being used to teach students and patrons about topography, runoff, and other geological topics. The sandboxes provide a mixed reality experience as the users manipulate standard play sand but are able to view simulated rain and water runoff. Snowmelt runoff is a complex geologic topic taught in higher education civil engineering classes. This phenomenon significantly impacts portions of the population via water sources and flooding events. By integrating a snowmelt simulation into the AR Sandbox framework, educators can introduce snowmelt and related topics, such as freeze-lines and snow-based reservoirs.

The development of this simulation included addition of freeze and melting equations to the existing algorithm as well as development of visual treatments and user control elements. Leveraging recent research on the positive effect of augmented reality technology on learning outcomes and a student’s ability to retain learning objectives. The final component was the creation of educational guides for AR Sandbox use in guided educational experiences. These guides are targeted to different aspects of snowmelt and different audiences. This work shows how an augmented reality sandbox with a snowmelt simulation can be used to display these concepts and how augmented reality sandboxes might be used for this topic in an education setting.

Tyler Ainsworth
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
United States

Elizabeth Smith
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
United States


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