AREA Sandtable (DHS S&T/YouTube)

Digital sandtable helps CBP visualize terrain

To help Customs and Border Patrol agents train to track drug smugglers, human traffickers, undocumented immigrants or potential terrorists over complex and unfamiliar territory, the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate developed the Augmented Reality Sandtable (ARES).

"The U.S. Border Patrol Training Academy approached us with a need to improve their sign-cutting and tracking capabilities" for mission planning and after action review,  Darren Wilson, DHS S&T senior scientific and technical adviser said in a video.

The ARES interactive digital sandtable uses augmented reality to create a 3D map of any given terrain.  A projector displays a topographical map of the desired environment on top of sand in a large sandbox, to visualize features of the terrain like trails, valleys and hilltops. 

A motion sensor keeps track of changes a user makes, shifting the sand to match the topographical display and then adjusts the computer-generated terrain projection to match the sand to display a specific area of interest and visualize lines of sight. A projector can overlay different types of maps on the sand to show streets names and specific buildings, for example.

Prior to deployment of ARES, CBP Training Academy built foam replicas of specific training environments, which essentially required a separate table for each scenario. ARES allows the sandtable to be adjusted to fit any mission.

ARES uses commercial off-the-shelf products (laptop, projector and 3D motion camera) and government owned software developed by the Army Research Lab. It also features a capability for HoloLens mixed reality headsets as well as a floor projected version for briefing larger groups. The technology can also be networked to  coordinate exercises or operations in different locations.


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