Design Digital Terrain with the Army's Projection-Mapped Sandtable
State-of-the-art military technology lets you create interactive topographical maps with your hands and piles of sand.
From robots using sand to make architecture to a castle inscribed on a single grain of sand, and even a working synth built upon mounds of the soft and grainy stuff, we've seen tons of projects come about through the creative use of sand. Now, the Army Research Lab has thrown its hat into the ring with an interactive, half-digital map that creates computer-generated topographies from the formations of tabletop sand dunes.
Bearing the appropriately militaristic-sounding designation "ARES sandtable concept," the project allows Army officers to shift sand into different 3D formations which can match the military's own satellite imagery, enabling the construction of virtual terrain for tactical war games. A traditional sandtable can take hours to arrange, but with an off-the-shelf projector, an interactive Xbox Kinect camera, and some custom software, the arduous task can be reduced to minutes—and it looks awesome, to boot.
"You're seeing the real terrain, so it's more realistic," says Army Research Lab Senior Instructional Systems Specialist Charles AmBurn II in a video from Military.com. He suggests that the ARES sandtable concept offers a Google Earth or "video game" view of an area, making it better for tactical thinking. The versatility of the mapping software also lets you raise mountains or carve rivers with a few swift arm movements, which BLDGBLOG points out would make for an awesome playground, or even a useful architectural planning tool. Combine this with the aforementioned sandbox synth, and you'd get the coolest party for ants that the Department of Defense's budget can buy.
Watch the full video here to see the sandtable in action