Last semester BYU-Idaho mechanical engineering students created an exhibit for the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls that serves the museum's mission to "provide unique educational opportunities for everyone."
The engineering students designed and created a topographical sandbox that is currently housed in the Children's Discovery Center. "There are a lot of cool opportunities with the sandbox. It's such an exciting asset," said Chloe Doucette, education director of the Museum of Idaho.
The origin of this "exciting asset" began when Richard Grimmett, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Department chair, approached the museum to establish a complementary relationship.
Grimmett was looking for opportunities that would give his students experience while benefitting the museum. The museum said it was looking for more interactive exhibits.
A student team of electrical engineers came up with different concepts and pitched the idea of an augmented reality sandbox.
The concept is to have a sandbox that has a virtual topographical image projected onto it from above that uses different colors to show elevations and adjusts to the different depths as patrons interact with the sand. The museum and BYU-Idaho call it a topographical sandbox.
"The electrical engineers put together a prototype to show the museum how it would work," Grimmett said. "The museum saw it and said, 'great, we'd love to have something like that.'"
Grimmett then handed off the project to a student team of mechanical engineers to make a structure to support the prototype concept.
The mechanical engineering team took the concept of the topographical sandbox and started brainstorming how it would work in a completed exhibit. They visited the Museum of Idaho to find out exactly what they were looking for in the final display.
Grimmett said the team asked all the right questions and really worked well together.
Brennan Harris, a member of the mechanical engineering team said it was a great experience. "It was nice to focus on what the customer needed," Harris said.
The museum required, among other things, the exhibit to be portable by one person, small enough to fit through the doors, and aesthetically pleasing.
"It was awesome to have a bunch of smart, talented students working on this," Doucette said. "We had a lot of demands, and they met all of them. It was beyond anything we imagined."
Doucette said initial responses from both staff and patrons have been very positive toward the topographical sandbox.
"It's awesome to have this at our disposal," Doucette said. "It will be a good resource to the community."
This exhibit marks the beginning of a relationship between two entities of education. Grimmett and Doucette are discussing future paths that will build this relationship.
The Museum of Idaho is a free-standing, non-profit organization dedicated to bringing internationally- and nationally-acclaimed exhibits to southeast Idaho, preserving and showcasing natural and cultural history, and providing unique educational opportunities for everyone.