FOSS4G NA 2016

Tangible Landscape

Brendan Harmon, Anna Petrasova, Vaclav Petras, Helena Mitasova, & Ross Meentemeyer

Tangible Landscape

A tangible user interface powered by open source GIS


An evolution of Illuminating Clay and the Tangible Geospatial Modeling System

Piper, Ben, Carlo Ratti, and Hiroshi Ishii. 2002. “Illuminating Clay: A Tangible Interface with Potential GRASS Applications.” In Proceedings of the Open Source GIS - GRASS Users Conference 2002. Trento, Italy.

L. Tateosian, H. Mitasova, B. A. Harmon, B. Fogleman, K. Weaver, and R. S. Harmon, “TanGeoMS: tangible geospatial modeling system.,” IEEE Trans. Vis. Comput. Graph., vol. 16, no. 6, pp. 1605–12, 2010.

Image source: MIT Media Lab

Tanigble interaction with GIS

With Tangible Landscape you can hold a GIS in your hands - feeling the shape of the earth, sculpting its topography, and directing the flow of water.


Tangible Landscape couples a digital and a physical model through a continuous cycle of 3D scanning, geospatial modeling, and projection

Intuitive scientific modeling with Tangible Landscape

Tangible Landscape is designed to make scientific data, models, and simulations exploratory, engaging, and fun


Visibility analysis


Solar analysis

Solar irradiation and cast shadow


Trail planning

Optimized trail routing between waypoints based on energetics, topography, and cost maps with feedback including trail slopes and viewsheds

Serious gaming

Coastal flooding game

Save houses from coastal flooding by building coastal defenses

Structured problem solving with rules, challenging objectives, and scoring

Serious gaming

Termite infestation game

Manage the spread of termites across a city by treating city blocks

Using an epidemiological model in R

Open source

Fork us on GitHub

Tangible Landscape plugin for GRASS GIS

GRASS GIS module for importing data from Kinect v2

Tangible Landscape repository on Open Science Framework

Open education

Open source software, open algorithms, open data, and open educational resources

Petras, V., Petrasova, A., Harmon, B., Meentemeyer, R.K., Mitasova, H. Integrating Free and Open Source Solutions into Geospatial Science Education. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information. 2015, 4, 942-956. doi:10.3390/ijgi4020942


libfreenect2Drivers for Kinect v2
PCLPoint cloud processing
GRASS GIS 7Geospatial modeling and visualization


grass-tangible-landscapeGRASS GIS pluginTangible interface for GRASS GIS GIS addonImport data from Kinect


ComputerSystem 76 Oryx Pro$1500
ProjectorOptoma ML750 WXGA 700 DLP LED$500
3D sensorXbox One Kinect$100
Kinect Adapter for Windows$50
StandAvenger 40-Inch C-Stand with Grip Kit$200
Avenger 40-Inch C-Stand with Grip Kit$200
Avenger F800 3-Inch Baby Wall Plate$10
Avenger F800 3-Inch Baby Wall Plate$10
PeripheralsHDMI cable$10
Extension cord$10
Modeling mediaWaba Fun Kinetic Sand 11 Lbs$50

System setup

Modeling making

Data sources

Data typeData source
LidarUnited States Interagency Elevation Inventory
Earth Explorer
Digital Coast
Open Topography
Digital elevation modelsNational Elevation Dataset
OrthoimageryUSGS EROS Orthoimagery WMS

Modeling making

Hand sculpting

Modeling making

CNC milling

Modeling making

3D printing

Modeling making

Casting polymeric sand

In-situ digital fabrication

A 3-axis CNC milling machine to model a landscape in polymer-enriched sand using a plunge cut

Future work

In-situ robotic fabrication for Tangible Landscape

Future work

Real-time data and autonomous construction with Tangible Landscape

Further reading

Read our book and give it a try