ACC students take learning to the next level

Inside of the physics and geology lab at the Austin Community College Highland campus, Eric Hiatt works to perfect his latest creation.

"It is called an augmented-reality sandbox and it helps people visualize some of the things that have to do with topographic maps," Hiatt said, "Three-dimensional representations of maps on a two-dimensional surface."

Hiatt and his partner Cory Holmes spent over 100 hours creating the A.R. Sandbox. With some help from open-source software from U.C. Davis, some wood, a projector, and an XBOX Kinnect, this topographic map can show students, in real time, what terrain will look like in 3-D form.

"A lot of people have a lot of problems visualizing a 3D surface on a 2D map and this is a way you can actually visualize a 3D surface because you make a 3D surface and it will project the 2D map over on top of what you just created," Hiatt said.

With some nifty features and engaging technology, students will now be able to see how terrain interacts with different elements instead of just looking at them on a piece of paper and imagining. Hiatt said the reactions he has received from children as well as adults has been a simple "wow".

"It's almost like magic when people see it, they have no clue. they ask if it is projected from beneath or how does it work. those are the main questions but people can't fathom how it works," Hiatt said.

Hiatt said the A.R. Sandbox is a prototype and there a few more kinks that need to be worked out but improvements are forthcoming and the hope is the sandbox will be introduced to classrooms in the near future.