The Xbox Kinect has certainly become a useful tool for innovation, with modders finding applications in medical imaging, robotics, and even aids for the visually impaired, to name just a few. Now it looks like you can add "topography" to that list with the development of the SandyStation. Created by two students in the Czech Republic, the SandyStation projects a realistic ecosystem over an ordinary sandbox, which can be altered in real-time.
The students, Peter Altman and Robert Eckstein from the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, built the device using a Kinect, a data projector, a program of their own design, and of course, an ordinary box of sand. Sitting two feet above the sand, the Kinect monitors the varying heights and depths of the area and relays the information through a program to a projector. The projector then displays the topographical information on top of the sandbox as a series of specific colors. Each color represents a different height or depth, from dark blues for deep bodies of water to forest greens for the tops of hills, giving the sandbox the appearance of a thriving, lush environment.
That would be impressive enough, but the SandyStation can almost immediately respond to any changes made to the sandbox and alter the image accordingly. A person can carve out rivers with their hands and watch the "water" flow down a new path or scoop up a hill that appears to instantly sprout plant life. In a clever touch, the programmers have also made it possible to build a mountain and dig a hole out of the top to make it spew lava. The program will even show this virtual lava being extinguished if it runs into a body of water.
Writing the first prototype for the SandyStation only took the authors a few days, but they are still looking for further uses for it. In the future, there could be some mainstream uses for the technology in other industries such as education, advertising, or graphic design.