top of page
ARS image.jpg

Augmented Reality Sandbox (ARS)

The Augmented Reality Sandbox (ARS) is presented by the Michigan Water Stewardship Program and Tri-County Regional Planning Commission in partnership with the Eaton Conservation District and the Greater Lansing Regional Committee for Stormwater Management. Programming was made possible through the Mid-Michigan Watershed Connections Project via the Great Lakes B-WET 2022 Grant in partnership with the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

MWSP verticle logo.png
original - full color JPG.jpg
GLRC promo logo.png
ARS image2_edited.jpg

What is the ARS?

The augmented reality sandbox (ARS) is a 3D, interactive, dynamic educational tool to help understand mapping, topography, watersheds, natural hazards, and human impact upon our environment. The ARS allows users to create topographic models by shaping real sand, which is then augmented in real time by an elevation color map, topographic contour lines, and simulated water. The system teaches geographical, geological, and hydrological concepts such as how to read a topography map and the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, and catchment areas.

How Does the ARS Work?

By holding a hand above the sand, participants can ‘make it rain’ and then watch how the virtual water flows through the watershed in real time and discover how changes in topography and land use affect flooding. It's a fun and addictive way to learn through play! While "playing" users can:

  • Shape the sand to change the contour lines

  • Build rivers, lakes, hills, mountains, plains, or islands

  • Measure surface runoff velocity and the effect of different slopes

  • Create a landscape with different features to see how they affect the flow of water

  • Compare different approaches to land management and the impact this has on the flow of water

  • See how natural processes can reduce flooding


The AR Sandbox uses a computer projector and a motion-sensing input device (an Xbox 360 Kinect camera), which are mounted above the sand. The camera is calibrated to detect the 3D landscape of the sand and the height of the “raincloud” to start the rain. Open source software that was developed by UC Davis in California instantly simulates and projects the topographical and hydrological model as users create landscapes and move water in the hands-on sandbox.

Grand River Watershed.jpg

*NOTE: The ARS takes many hours to set up and cannot be moved once it is calibrated. We prefer week long uses of the ARS or an all-day/multi-day event. 

The ARS is Free to Use! 

Our daily decisions impact the watershed in which we live. We want to help all residents protect the waters of our Grand River watershed to create a  sustainable future. That's why the GLRC and Eaton Conservation District will bring the ARS to you. The ARS is an engaging watershed education tool for all ages, so if you're a teacher, environmental educator, or the host of a large event within an hour of Lansing contact us to schedule it today!*



Resources for the ARS

The ARS is easy to use, just follow these simple rules!

  1. Keep it clean. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. You can also use clean gloves.

  2.  Move the sand. Watch the colors change to reflect altitude, or how high the sand is. Blue represents sea level. White represents a snowy mountaintop. 

  3. Make it rain. Spread your fingers wide and move your hand slowly above the surface of the sand. 

  4. Ask questions. How does the water flow over the different surfaces? Where does it collect? Can you make ponds, rivers and lakes? What else can you learn with the ARS?

Watershed model by Stormwater Mgmt Comm Lake Co IL.png
ARS Brochure cover_Page_1.png
bottom of page