NEWS: Oliver Kreylos, UC Davis, wins the golden Larry L. Sautter UC Tech Award for Innovation in Information Technology

Oliver Kreylos

Last summer, Oliver Kreylos, who works in virtual reality (VR) at UC Davis DataLab, secured the UC Tech Awards Program Larry L. Sautter golden award for Innovation in Information Technology. Kreylos, a highly accomplished computer scientist holding a Ph.D., currently serves as the Virtual Reality research specialist at the UC Davis DataLab: Data Science and Informatics. Kreylos was recognized for his outstanding contributions to augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) projects, specifically the Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox and Virtual Reality User Interface (VRUI). These projects reduce barriers and foster inclusivity in STEM education. Kreylos’s UC Tech 2023 Awards Program application, presented below, demonstrates his UC-wide impact on learning. Please see this Landing page to view links to the original application submitted by Oliver Kreylos and his peers across the UC Tech community in 2023.

Project summary

Kreylos has pioneered the development of augmented reality and virtual reality software for research, teaching, and outreach. The latest innovations to his open-source AR Sandbox and Virtual Reality User Interface (VRUI) platforms, and their novel integration, are reducing equity barriers and providing opportunities for researchers and students to immerse in 3D data visualizations and collaboration. While Kreylos’s main research is conducted at UC Davis, the effects of his inventions are recognized across the UC system and beyond. His projects have been installed at UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, California State Humboldt, California State Pomona, California State Fullerton, primary to secondary schools, science centers, museums, and other global institutions. The Larry L. Sautter Award for Innovation in Information Technology recognizes Kreylos’s commitment to furthering data-driven discovery by reducing barriers and promoting access to innovative data visualization technologies. 

Kreylos’s background

Kreylos holds a PhD in computer science and is the Virtual Reality Research Specialist at UC Davis DataLab: Data Science and Informatics. Before joining the DataLab in 2021, Kreylos was the chief technologist at UC Davis’s W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES). Kreylos has made tremendous technical contributions to the research and education mission of UC Davis, which have benefited the entire UC system and institutions worldwide.

Project description: Augmented reality (AR) sandbox and VRUI

Educators can find it difficult to explain teaching concepts involving 3D data such as crystalline structures and DNA models. From a data perspective, transforming 3D data to 2D planes causes distortions which can create issues in data interpretation leading to incorrect conceptual models and results. Kreylos has dedicated his career to developing software and interfaces that overcome these constraints by allowing researchers and students to understand 3D data via augmented and virtual reality.  

Augmented reality (AR) Sandbox

Kreylos began developing the underlying open-source software, technical specifications, and design of the Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) in collaboration with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, Lawrence Hall of Science, and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center. This NSF-funded project is a cost-effective, hands-on interactive tool that allows elementary students, college-aged students, and faculty researchers to experience and study forces in geologic, hydrologic, and physical sciences by shaping real sand in a sandbox. The Microsoft Kinect 3D camera measures minute elevational changes which Kreylos’s software renders and projects in real-time on the surface of the sand with an elevational color map and topographic contour lines. Kreylos added functionality to the code which allows users to recreate an existing landscape or create their own while simulating rainfall or lava flows to observe fluid mechanics. 

In his commitment to making technology accessible, Kreylos designed the AR Sandbox to be cost-effective; the entire hardware setup costs $1,300. At the time of the nomination, there were an estimated 2,000 AR Sandboxes at universities, middle schools, high schools, and museums. The AR Sandbox at the Lawrence Hall of Science is experienced by over 250,000 visitors per year. 

While the project is currently largely unfunded, Kreylos continues to maintain the software, support the global user community, and continually design new features. In 2023, Kreylos developed and showcased a simplified installation procedure, and released a simplified calibration routine. These features are intended to improve the accessibility of the AR Sandbox at more primary schools and public education centers.

VRUI: the next generation of 3D data visualization

The UC Davis Keck(CAVES) is UC Davis’ premier visualization facility, consisting of three walls and floor with stereoscopic displays and tracking for visual representations of 3D data. This facility became nonoperational in 2020 and was dismantled in 2022 due to the high cost of maintaining the system’s half-million-dollar projection system. Due to their expense, many visualization centers pose equity and accessibility barriers for researchers and educators. To address this disparity as well as meet existing and growing 3D visualization needs at the UC, Kreylos is developing cost-effective solutions for collaborative, data-driven research. Since joining DataLab in 2021, Kreylos has taken his open-source VRUI platform from major version 6 to version 11. The version upgrades include significant advancements for supporting commodity VR headsets and controllers to connect to his custom immersive visualization software suite. Vrui platform, now in its 11th version, supports commodity VR headsets, offering researchers interaction with 3D data at a startup cost of $2,000.

In 2023, Vrui’s collaboration infrastructure went from major version 4 to 8, featuring new reusable data sharing and bulk data transfer sub-protocols, as well as new shared pointing, drawing, and presentation sub-modules for real-time whiteboard and annotation. These innovations offer compatibility with other VR modalities to create hybrid virtual workspaces, allowing co-located and distributed teams to virtually step into shared data visualization and co-explore large-scale datasets in real-time, enhancing collaboration and generating novel World maps of known AR Sandbox installations. In 2022, Kreylos installed a new virtual reality 3D data visualization center featuring commodity VR headsets at UC Davis DataLab. insights. Recent research projects this software has facilitated include large-scale network graphs, LIDAR 3D spatial visualizations, and chemical engineering.

Additional innovation: integrating the AR and VR technologies

At UC Davis’ Picnic Day and Take Our Children to Work Day (TOC) in April 2023, Kreylos led DataLab’s debut of his latest software development, the integration of the AR sandbox with Vrui.

As kids created mountains, valleys, rainstorms, and lava in the AR Sandbox, other visitors explored the shifting landscape at scale through Vrui. They experienced landscape and weather changes in real time, while onlookers followed their immersive experience projected onto screens in 2D. This integrated exhibit attracted entire families: Picnic Day logged 1,996 visitors at the exhibit and over 50 families experienced his software at TOC.

Many elementary-aged children made positive remarks including: “This is so cool – I want to be a scientist!” Other comments indicated a successful introduction to core concepts: “I’m making a shield volcano. Lava is viscous;” “Water always goes downhill except when it doesn’t, because of momentum.”

Visiting faculty from veterinary and human health, as well as STEM research fields, have requested consultations and advice on applying the technology in their labs and classrooms. This innovative integrated experience piloted with the UC Davis community this spring presents new opportunities for broadening participation in STEM and promises to be the next frontier of inaccessible, immersive AR+VR technology for research, education, and outreach.


Kreylos’ journey from the development of the AR Sandbox and VRUI to the integration of AR/VR technologies demonstrates his dedication to innovation and accessibility in information technology. The Gold Larry L. Sautter Award recognizes his contributions that have not only advanced the capabilities of 3D data representation but have also significantly impacted education, research, and collaborative exploration. More information about these projects and Kreylos’ other innovations in information technology can be found on his website

About the UC Tech Awards Program

The UC Tech Awards program will open shortly for the 2024 season. The season, including applications and judging, will culminate with an awards ceremony to be held at the UC Tech Conference between October 27 – 29, 2024. Learn more about the UC Tech Awards program.


Oliver Kreylos 
Virtual Reality Research Specialist
UC Davis