The Sandbox Project: Using Augmented Reality to Improve Geomorphological Understanding

Continuing our series of updates on the 2016 Teaching Innovation Awards, Prof. Jo Bullard explains how a regular sandbox can be transformed into a unique teaching and learning experience.

Many students and visitors to the Geography Social learning Space over the past few weeks have stopped for a few minutes (or longer!) to interact with the Sandbox that is currently under development.  What is so special about a box of sand?  Well this one has been built using a 2016 Teaching Innovation Award aimed at using augmented reality to improve geomorphological understanding.  When the box of sand is connected to a camera and projector it becomes possible for users to create and visualize landscapes.  As the sand is sculpted, contours are projected on to the miniature landscape.  By hovering a hand over the box, users can make it ‘rain’ over the landscape and the water flow down in to rivers and valleys.

How was it developed?
The basic programming for the Sandbox is open source software developed at UCDavis and Computer Science student Yuan Tian and technician Kip Sahnsi worked last summer to get the computer code running on a special computer.  In the meantime Joanna Bullard and Richard Harland in Geography built the box which is on wheels so that it can be transferred between Geography and Computer Science and also to other events on campus.

What’s next?
There are a few sandboxes now up and running in the UK.  In December 2016 Prof. Jo Bullard from Loughborough University, Dr. Annie Ockelford (University of Brighton), Dr. Lynda Yorke (Bangor University) and Dr. Chris Skinner (University of Hull) jointly convened a session at the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting on Technology-Enhanced Teaching in Geosciences which featured a number of papers exploring how to support undergraduate student learning using augmented reality and we are hoping to include some of these ideas in our teaching in the future.

The Loughborough Sandbox is currently being ‘tweaked’ to improve the visualization and accuracy of the projection data but will be back up and running soon.

Using video in the Design School machine workshop

LDS Machine Workshop

Kevin Badni is a Senior Lecturer in the Loughborough Design School. Here he describes his experience of producing tutorial videos, funded by a Teaching Innovation Award, in order to show students how to use metal machining equipment. His findings will be of interest to any colleagues whose students need to learn (and remember) how to use specialist equipment with limited technician support.

In the Loughborough Design School all first year students (approximately 130) take a core module of Prototyping for Designers within the Machine workshop. They are required to make a PCB holder using equipment in the metal machine shop e.g. Lathes, milling machines, Drills etc. over an 8 week period.

In their second year undergraduate students take a core Design & Manufacturing Technologies module where they are required to make a fully working injection moulding tool. This module requires students to spend 5 weeks in the metal machine shop using a large variety of machines and specialised tools.

As a result of the large numbers of students, the technicians in the workshops were finding it increasingly difficult to give 1 to 1 tuition. A lot of their time is taken up repeating basic procedures that the students have been taught but are either lacking confidence to use the machines or have forgotten from their first year.

To overcome these problems a number of high quality videos demonstrating a number of FAQ regarding the metal machine shop were produced. The videos were placed on LEARN and on You Tube so the students can access them from within the workshops rather than having to go and find a remote computer to view them. The videos had individual QR codes (see below)associated to them allowing for quick and easy access. These QR codes are printed out and displayed in the workshop.

Our new Teaching Innovation Award project which is just starting builds on this successful initiative by addressing the issue of understanding complicated machine set-up operations using a completely different innovative approach. It intends to show how to set-up the machines using the newly emerging Augmented Reality technique. Augmented reality (AR) is a field of computer science that involves combining the physical world and an interactive, three-dimensional virtual world. AR blurs the line between what is real and what is computer-generated by enhancing what viewers see and hear when they view the machines through the screens of a tablet computer or smart phone. The viewer will see animated instructions of the machine being set-up overlaid on the actual machine. This enhanced reality will allow students to understand the complicated set-up procedures in situ with the actual machines, rather than remotely via a video. The technology of overlaying virtual worlds on the physical world is also very transferable for other operations that students may need to undertake during their programmes.

See this article in Serbo-Croat, courtesy of Jovana Milutinovich.

QR code for Design School machine video

If you have a QR code scanner app on your smartphone, try scanning the code displayed here to view one of the videos.