Military Playing With Elaborate Sandbox To Explore Future Battlefields

Anticipating where levees will break

Tangible Sandbox Map

Tangible Sandbox Map

The projected image changes as the sand it is projected on changes.Screenshot by author, from YouTube

Today’s battlefields change in the blink of an eye. Generally, that’s because of new attackers emerging from somewhere unseen, or an undetected bomb going off, but what if the sudden change instead came from a burst dam or flash flood? To answer these questions, and prepare for future wars, the Pentagon is playing in a literal sandbox.

From Nextgov:

The military’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency powered up a version of NC State’s Tangible Landscape about six months ago in its Springfield, Virginia-headquarters research lab, but the system is not being used for operations yet. It’s expected that analysts there and federal partners will execute "what-if" scenarios, for everything from wargaming to predicting the path of a forest fire.

The sandbox, built with kinetic sand, a projector, and a depth-detecting camera (possibly a Kinect) allows planners to see a physical landscape and then change it, with newly formed depressions and valleys showing how water could flow through the entirement. That's good for modelling sudden floods and new hazards. Better to do it with this sandbox than experience it first-hand.