High-tech sandbox helps farmers visualise water flow

It’s colourful, tactile and full of sand, but this box built by a USC Civil Engineering Honours student is far from a children’s toy.

Mitch Dakin’s Augmented Reality (AR) hydrology sandbox will be used by Queensland’s peak horticulture industry body Growcom to help teach local growers about water movement in the field, as well as by USC to teach Engineering students about hydrology.

USC senior academic and environmental engineer Dr Helen Fairweather said the Aroona student, formerly of Maryborough, had combined hands-on skills and technological knowhow to create a valuable “real world” tool as part of the professional practice element of his degree.

Based on a design developed by the University of California, Davis, the sandbox is overlaid with a digital projection of the Earth’s surface that can be live-updated as a 3D topographic visualisation. See demonstration videos.

Mitch said scooping and moulding the sand, or gesturing above it, enabled users to simulate the fall and flow of rain over any type of landscape, from hills to floodplains.

“Growcom wanted an instrument to support their work with growers around erosion control and flood resilience,” he said.

“The work aims to minimise environmental impacts from farming, especially agricultural run-off to local waterways.

“By illustrating to growers how water moves within different topographical landscapes, the sandbox will especially assist people with a more visual and hands-on learning style.”

Growcom representative Lene Knudsen said the sandbox would be taken to workshops, field days and conferences to bring more focus to the importance of hydrology in farming.

Mitch said the total project took him 490 hours, including the creation of a project charter, AutoCAD design, structural design calculations, software installation and all relevant project works and meetings.

“My USC engineering methods and project management skills were used as a baseline for developing the sandbox,” he said.

“This project has elevated my competence as an undergraduate engineer by allowing me to work with stakeholders and utilise important skills learned through my studies at USC.”

The 2016 St Mary’s Catholic College Maryborough graduate intends to work as a graduate engineer on the Sunshine Coast after he graduates next year.

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