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Biosystems engineering students build augmented reality sandbox

By Virginia Speirs

Published: Mar 3, 2021 12:00:00 AM

At Auburn, you’re never too old to play in the sand.

The Department of Biosystems Engineering has built an augmented reality sandbox designed to demonstrate the real-time water flow of any hypothetical topographic situation. The structure and program of the sandbox was originally designed by researchers at the University of California, Davis.

The landscape of Auburn’s sandbox was designed through geographic information systems (GIS) and mimics part of the university’s campus. One of the incorporated 3D-printed building models is a replica of the Haley Center.

“The sandbox itself was designed through a grant by UC Davis, and so they are the ones that actually did the heavy lifting,” said Jeremiah Davis, associate professor of biosystems engineering and director of the National Poultry Technology Center. “They made the program and the instructions on how to build it… and I came across it one day and we started talking about building one ourselves.”

With the basic components of an Xbox Kinect camera, a computer and a box full of kinetic sand, students can dig, move or shape the sand into any form, while a projector illustrates in real-time what would happen to the land in real life after rainfall.

The sandbox was built in order to help students understand topographic material that may be more difficult to learn from a two-dimensional map. 

It’s also an interesting conversation piece for students, both potential and enrolled.

“One of the reasons we built the box was to allows us to teach technical hydrology and topography concepts to non-engineering students,” Davis said. “Another reason is that we’re always looking for ways to attract students to our program, and we try to find stuff that is interactive.”

The sandbox made its demonstration debut for potential students during Auburn’s recent E-Week

“I think it's a really cool blend of technology, especially since it is so interactive,” said Andie Altemeier, senior in biosystems engineering. “I am a very kinesthetic learner and also very visual, so this sandbox is a great teaching tool for students like me, and especially for our incoming students who don’t really know what biosystems is. Overall, people can look at a sandbox and kind of register what is going on, so it is a way to get people intrigued about what we do without a high amount of complex subject knowledge.”

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson,, 334-844-3591

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