Microsoft has presented its latest research project today, Project Zanzibar. It is an intelligent carpet that is designed to combine the digital and physical worlds to feel the touch, gestures and objects. A team of researchers, with a love for toys, created the project in Microsoft's research laboratories in the United Kingdom. The mat folds and combines detection, near field communication (NFC) and multi-touch to imagine a future in which you can place objects on this smart rug and play games.
Microsoft video (above) shows a number of different games that track the position, movement and orientation of objects, all thanks to NFC tags. The smart carpet, which reminds me of the surface music deck, can even detect inputs as button presses and works with existing devices via Bluetooth. While the software maker demonstrates basic games for learning, programming and augmented reality, this seems to be the perfect hardware to combine the company's Minecraft game with real-world Lego blocks. Objects can be easily labeled with NFC tags, so you can stack them and have the mat translate that physical object into Minecraft.
It's early for the smart mat from Microsoft's Zanzibar Project, but ZDNet says the company will show it later this month at the ACM CHI Conference in Montreal. Microsoft has clearly focused on learning and education with this intelligent mat prototype, and the look of toys and games could work well in schools if it is ever released. Microsoft has been criticized in the past for showing research projects and never making them real. However, the software maker did a review of its research arm in 2016 to create projects that are not pure research and can have a greater impact on the company.