Bringing landscapes to life

Playing in the sand can be serious business.

Just ask MFA Incorporated’s Precision Agronomy Department Manager Thad Becker and MFA agronomists. They have created an “augmented reality” sandbox that’s more than child’s play.

This hands-on exhibit combines a tabletop sandbox, a Microsoft Kinect 3D camera, powerful simulation software and a data projector to create interactive topography models. Users mold the sand by hand, and the landscape comes to life. The peaks and valleys of the sand shapes are augmented in real time by an elevation color map, topographic contour lines and simulated water. The system teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts such as the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees, etc.

The augmented reality sandbox was originally developed by the University of California, Davis, with funds from the National Science Foundation, and the software to power the system is a free open-source download from the university. Becker and staff agronomists built the sandbox and worked with MFA Information Technology personnel to put the technology together for the exhibit.

The interactive display debuted at MFA’s Winter Buyers Market in January, where it was a popular stop for visitors, and the precision agronomy team took the sandbox to the Western Farm Show Feb. 23-25 in Kansas City. They also plan to use it in future producer meetings and training events.

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