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Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox

The Augmented Reality Sandbox is a great tool for teaching about mapping and topography, and for students to learn to visualize in 3D. It is also a lot of fun! Read more here, including how to build your own through the link below. 

An augmented reality (AR) sandbox is a 3D, interactive, dynamic educational tool to help understand mapping, topography, watersheds, natural hazards, and more! This tool uses an x-box to measure distance, and specialized computer software to map contour lines (lines of equal elevation) onto the sand that adjust as the sand is moved in real-time. It's a fun way to learn through play for young and the young at heart.

The Youth and Education in Science team at USGS has built two. One (blue) is on permanent display at USGS Headquarters, in the main floor hallway. The second (green) is portable, and we bring it to meetings and outreach events, and loan it to USGS offices and government partners who would like to have it for a while. 

The U.S. Geological Survey currently has AR sandboxes at the following locations:

  • Augusta, Maine
  • Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Portland, Oregon 
  • Tacoma, Washington
  • Reston, Virginia 
  • Vancouver, Washington
  • Woods Hole, Massachusetts

There are many AR sandboxes across the globe and there may be one at a science museum, university, or other location near near you. Type "AR sandbox" into your search engine to find one. Download the free educational resource below and start exploring today! Note: If you know of another AR sandbox at a USGS location, please e-mail so we can add the location to our list.

The Augmented Reality Sandbox was developed by the UC Davis W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES,, supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL 1114663.

For more information, please visit Oliver Kreylos' Research and Development Homepage - Augmented Reality Sandbox (