Zanzibar – a Smart Playmat Based on NFC Technology

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From Amiibos to Skylanders, game companies want to translate real-world objects into digital worlds by charging ‘toys to life’. Recently, Microsoft research team said: “What if we could blur the divide between the physical and digital worlds? What if you could play with physical toys, blocks and cards, and watch your actions come alive on the screen?” Therefore, Microsoft researchers have developed a prototype smart playmat called Project Zanzibar that can identify daily items attached with Near Field Communication (NFC) stickers.

Zanzibar is a ‘sensing platform’ that combines NFC technology with capacitive sensing to detect objects and track finger movements. It’s also flexible, both literally and systematically: it can work after you hook it up to any tablet or screen and unroll the mat. It can sense objects simply by placing NFC stickers on their bottoms, which tracks them both spatially and vertically, identifying distinct items stacked on top of each other. Then the pictures of items will show on the screen.

There’s obvious benefits for play and learning – kids can learn knowledge in the process of playing games. Zanzibar can also improve their creativity and imagination. Kids can tell stories by toys and others can watch it on the screen. Zanzibar also plays an important role in the process of learning in card game.

On April 23, Microsoft Research run a demo of Zanzibar during the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Montreal, Canada. After that, they hope Zanzibar gets turned into a real product. It  has the potential to challenge Nintendo Labo as the “toy” kids want.

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