There’s something incredibly gratifying about swiping your hand across a surface, digging a trough with your fingers, and watching a flowing river come to life before your eyes. These interactive displays use sand as the base medium, allowing you to scoop, smash, and splatter structures that are then analyzed by a Microsoft Kinect and fed to a computer, which then projects a topographical map onto the surface. The result is you feeling like a giant, shaping the world beneath you.

Lets take a look at a few impressive examples of this fantastic marriage of tactical and visual stimuli.

The recent Maker Faire in Trondheim had a stunning example of a sand table at work.

Children can’t keep their hands out of it. Watch as these kids make all kinds of fantastic structures.

This one, located in Alaska, incorporates all kinds of weather simulations as well. You can use your hands as “clouds” to rain on the surface. Also note that fantastic bit of wall-art in the background made out of old PC motherboards!

Easily the most visually stunning example, the SandyStation has fantastic graphics. Watch as volcano simulations cause lava to burst from freshly sculpted mounds.

The good news is that you can make your own! The software, called SARndbox, is free to download. You will need a projector, a Microsoft Kinect, and of course, a sand table. The current system works best with a first generation Kinect and an Nvidia graphics card in the computer. The software install and setup can get a bit complicated. Luckily, there’s a step by step guide to setting up your own interactive sand table available to walk you through the process. An active support forum is also available as you’ll likely run into issues along the way and have questions.