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Augmented reality sandbox on UA's campus helps educate public about hydrological processes

A virtual sandbox on the University of Alabama campus is being used to teach the public about flooding, mapping and hydrological processes.

A virtual sandbox on the University of Alabama campus is being used to teach the public about flooding, mapping and hydrological processes.

"It’s a regular sandbox, its play sand,” said Dr. Sagy Cohen, Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Alabama.

The exhibit at the Alabama Museum of Natural History is made up of a Microsoft Kinect Camera, a projector, computer, and of course, sand.

One of its goals is to teach topographic mapping.

“Many people don't know how to read a map, let alone a topographical map, which in my work is good for field work, or if you just like hunting, or fishing, or hiking, if you want to do a big hike you have to read a topographical map,” Dr. Cohen said.

In the simulation, your hand can also act as a cloud, producing virtual rain, which Dr. Cohen says demonstrates hydrological processes.

“When rain falls, where would it flow, for example, if you have a dam and a big lake behind it and the dam is breached, where would the water flow,” he said.

Another use of the hands-on exhibit is to teach the public about the dangers of living in a flood plain.

“People love living near the river, the property value is high but there is a risk of living near it and people really are not aware of that risk and they put pressure on policy makers or politicians to allow development of these areas for residential and commercial purposes which probably shouldn't be developed,” said Dr. Cohen.

It is a hands-on approach to real world situations and lessons that can be learned by kids of all ages.

The exhibit was made possible through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

It is open to the public at the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

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