Introducing the Terrain Box

What if you could learn the skill of contour reading without leaving the house? What if you could play God and create your own terrain and map simultaneously? Introducing the AR Sandbox! But this time it’s the Terrain Box.

The AR Sandbox is a relatively simple augmented reality (AR) system which maps a small sandpit in real-time and draws the map onto the sand surface itself. In this blog I want to share just a brief overview, but later on I will go into more detail about how the whole system works.

My vision was to provide an interactive and intuitive experience for learning how to read contours. For me, reading contours is one of the hardest skills to successfully communicate when coaching and I believe a tool like this could be a huge help in making this process much easier for coaches and more impactful for learners.

Everyone getting involved with the Terrain Box displaying a coloured height map

The research behind this project was done at UC Davis, California, with intended applications focused on geographic concepts such as how to read a topographic map, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas and levees. While the water flow functionality is mesmerisingly cool, my focus was obviously on the contours. All the necessary software is publicly available and suggestions on the physical arrangement are also provided online, but these are dependent on how big you want the box to be and the specific projector being used. While the basic information provided is sufficient for making an AR Sandbox for a classroom or museum, I had some bonus challenges to overcome. I wanted to make my version portable so I’ve made the frame (the upper part that holds the camera and projector over the box) easily removable and my box has handles. Foam is also available to build up higher hills without needing to weigh the box down with more heavy sand. The sand it’s self is very white and very fine, perfect for displaying a vivid image and building smooth shapes.

Using the coloured height map as an introductions to contours

I gave the Terrain Box its first outing at NZ Champs a few weeks back, set up at the NWOC accommodation. It got a lot of use (80ish people) over the 2 evenings it was set up for. It was great to see all the juniors get stuck in, but I was most excited to see the engagement from the adults in our club, many of whom have been dragged into orienteering by their children and skimmed through a lot of the important foundational learning around how to read contours. I now see the Terrain Box’s best value in unwinding the habits of many senior orienteers and giving them a second chance to get the fundamentals right.

The clean look with colours removed makes the Terrain Box a navigation-specific tool purely for connecting contours on 2D maps to the land forms of the real 3D world

The next step is to make a progression of exercises, starting from very easy, like a single large hill, to very hard, like numerous small features on a slope, where the objective is to read the map and create the terrain while using the Terrain Box to check your work as you build the land forms. Setting up the exercises in reverse is also an interesting idea and should generate a lot of appreciation for the challenge professional mappers face in creating some of our wonderful maps.

Its second showing will be at a work event where people share home projects with their colleagues and then its third at the NWOC end of year prize giving. I aim to bring it to the forest next year and I’m open to more suggestions around how to get maximum use out of this new toy. Also get in touch if you are thinking of building our own.

3 Out Of 3

My longest and most successful training block ever of 22 weeks has just come to a close, so it’s time for some reflection. This block was a smoothly increasing progression with 2 overload weeks and 3 goal races. I took course records in my 2 B-goals, Tussock Traverse and The Hillary, and won my A-goal race, Oceania Orienteering Champs Long Distance. This is most exciting because the orienteering often doesn’t go to plan and good fitness can easily go to waste with bad navigation on the day.

My pursuit for consistency successfully delivered me to race day on good form, but perhaps most importantly, experiencing fewer frustrating disruptions has kept me more positive throughout the training block. Early in the block I felt like my training load was too easy, but I stuck to the plan and ignored the usual urgency and 11/10 motivation to train harder. Eventually I was at my peak week of 16 hours including a number of high intensity sessions, without ever having one week noticeably harder than the previous (except for the 2 overload weeks which took advantage of training camps).

To focus in on last Saturday’s long distance a little more, the splits show that I was running very strongly and my navigation was mostly smooth but with 4 mistakes totalling about 4 minutes. Although I find it hard to be satisfied with this amount of time loss, considering the very challenging navigation and the number of mistakes others were making this was on par with my close competition. The biggest factor spreading names down the results board was running speed. I didn’t start particularly aggressively, but still took an early lead as my running speed was really good. This lead was taken away after a small mistake, but up to control 9 I was quite satisfied with race. It began to fall apart in some challenging legs to 10 and 11 and dropped to 4th place at this point, and could feel a degree of frustration.

I left these mistakes behind me and attacked the next legs hard and began to pull time on my competition. I focused on safe routes and fast lines and pulled time on my competition, except for Matt, who was still maintaining his commanding lead. The last quarter of the race sealed the deal, and I flipped the 2 minute deficit into a 2 minute lead. Perhaps Matt started too hard, as he began to fade in the last quarter of the course while I had the endurance to keep my aggression very high. I posted the fastest time on 6 of the last 9 legs, and was only narrowly behind the fastest time on the other 3. The terrain ramped up in this section and I was putting 30 seconds into Matt on most of these hilly legs. Simon Upphil had also run a solid race to this point, but slipped away similarly to Matt to finish 3rd, 5 minutes down.

A quick course breakdown with Matt at the finish. The NWOC 1-2!

A quick course breakdown with Matt at the finish. The NWOC 1-2!

I was both surprised and thrilled to hear the commentary announce that I had the fastest time at the finish, but I couldn’t stand the nervous wait watching the clock for the other top runners to finish so I left the event centre to warm down.



This race reinforced my decision to focus on long distance, as strongly as it reminded me that I still haven’t addressed my often sloppy navigation. But with very little focus on orienteering training this was always going to be the likely case. So now with 2 months until WOC I really do need to focus on navigation, but with a serious problem in my left ankle running in terrain is risky and I’m not sure how best to approach this conflict. I have been working with Sports Lab for a few months on this problem and although we did make progress, this has been more than undone by all the racing in the last 2 weeks.

I will relight the fire in 2 weeks, but for now I sleep satisfied.

Rewards of Giving Back

Giving back has always been a big part of what drives me, and over the years the projects I’ve been involved with have continued to grow in magnitude. I helped organise my first orienteering event at the age of 15 as course planner for a local rogaine for 200 people, and since then I’ve worked my way through different sized events in orienteering. The Auckland World Masters Games held next month provided another step up, where my role as a course setter had me testing courses over a year ago, making it by far my biggest project I’ve been involved in as a volunteer. It’s incredible how many people have mobilised to make this happen. While we often celebrate the success of an event based on the enjoyment of competitors, I’ve also come to celebrate how projects like these grow those who commit their time and up their game to deliver the event. It’s clear in my case than my own growing up has much less to do with the educational system and more to do with taking on real world projects which threw me in the deep end far more regularly.

In the past few years I’ve led my club’s training, run an NZ Development Squad camp, and coached the New Zealand team at Junior World Champs, but course planning at World Masters Games has been the biggest undertaking. My role here contributes to orienteering on the international level, but the other important benefit, as eluded to above, is the experience of seeing how a larger group of volunteers with different skills can work to develop each other and come out with more proficiencies than they went in with. I think this is worth celebrating but often gets shadowed by the relief of completing such a project.

World Masters Orienteering Champs as part of World Masters Games

World Masters Orienteering Champs as part of World Masters Games

Although I’ve really enjoyed my involvement in these areas I definitely feel the urge to spend more time on my own projects, and to get the most out of myself it makes sense to follow the stronger motivations.

I spent last weekend in Taupo racing at Katoa Po, otherwise known as all-night relays. This event is small, but an important display of club culture with 7-person teams featuring orienteers of all levels. It was great to see equal energy brought from the juniors as from the die-hard old timers, and this reassures me that the vibrant club culture will continue to thrive. It was great to defend our title and impressive to see all the juniors taking on the challenge of racing orienteering at night-time with such confidence and enthusiasm.

The magic of night orienteering with Taupo in the back ground, captured by Thomas Stolberger in 2015

The magic of night orienteering with Taupo in the background, captured by Thomas Stolberger in 2015

Icebug New Zealand and I had a great opportunity to give these energetic juniors something more to get excited about by giving away a whole bunch of shoes to future stars who provide a lot of positive energy to the club and we hope to see their progress as they move up through the grades. I have to thank Icebug for this great contribution to North West Orienteering Club, and for giving me another reason to engage these juniors in a running context where they could learn about different shoes and where best to use them. I also love to demonstrate why NWOC is the best club to be a member of, so a great success there too!

Icebugs for some of our fun and talented junior orienteers

Icebugs for some of our fun and talented junior orienteers

Another project I’ve had on the workbench for some time now is the AR Sandbox. I gave revision 1 a test last week and I’m now confident about realising my original idea of using this as an innovative tool for teaching certain aspects of navigation. It still needs to be properly calibrated, but the end is in sight.

3rd at NZ Champs Sprint

I’m very happy with my 3rd in the sprint race at NZ Champs this Easter weekend. I had a good race with only a few hesitations and but didn’t have the legs to climb any higher on the podium. The big relief for me is starting the weekend with confidence in my navigation and now I’m going into the middle distance tomorrow feeling very good!

Huge congratulations to Duncan “Dark Horse” Morrison for taking his first New Zealand title after a few years away from the top. It’s always great to see hard work pay off!

Nick Hann 2nd, Duncan Morrison 1st, Gene Beveridge 2nd

Nick Hann 2nd, Duncan Morrison 1st, Gene Beveridge 2nd


On the Horizon

The 2012 orienteering session has kicked off hard with 3 days of sprint racing at Hawkes Bay’s Sprint the Bay 4 weeks ago. The Elite field has stepped up a notch since last year and is making for exciting racing. Next up is Taupo’s Katoa Po All Night Relay on the 10th of March with companion events on the 10th and 11th. North West will be looking to take the title off Auckland with Tom Reynolds and Matt Ogden both on good form. There is no doubt that it will be a hot contest with Auckland, Wellington and Bay of Plenty clubs all boasting a strong array of runners. Unfortunately my own race in uncertain as I am still recovering from an ITB problem sustained at Sprint the Bay but I’m optimistic I will be back on track in time to run for my club. If not, I will still make the trip to support North West!

An aggressive elite field starting at Sprint the Bay

Further afield, I have my sights set on the NZ Orienteering Champs in early April held by my very own North West Orienteering Club in Woodhill Forest. With this weekend doubling as the trial races for the New Zealand WUOC and WOC (World University Orienteering Champs and World Orienteering Champs) teams there is even more at stake. This year’s NZ Champs is shaping up to be very intense, and with an increasingly strong NZ Elite field looking to put some extremely technical terrain to the test I will have to be at the top of my game to feature.

Teaser of the stunning Waioneke Forest being used for the NZ Champs Long Distance

Another big event I have highlighted as a goal race is Queens Birthday 3 Day based at Waitarere Beach starting on the 2nd of June and run by Wellington OC. This event will feature some typically fast sand dune terrain with technical areas and should be a great opportunity for me to achieve some top results as I did at Queens Birthday in 2011. This race weekend will also be my last chance to hone my technical skills before I travel to compete in Europe later that month.

Yes, I have booked my flights and will be giving a rundown of my plans shortly. For now all I have to say is that the trip will be epic!