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Microsoft’s smart mat imagines seamless interaction between the physical & digital world

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One of the biggest trends in video games over the past few years has been the introduction of toys-to-life versions of popular franchises. Big players like Nintendo, LEGO and Disney have all tried their hands at bringing digitally interactive toys to the market, with mixed results. Microsoft’s latest endeavor, deemed Project Zanzibar, looks to further blur the line between the physical and digital worlds with a fully interactive NFC-based smart mat.

Microsoft’s Project Zanzibar is a smart mat that combines a variety of sensing arrays, near field communication (NFC), and multi-touch to offer a unique take on interactive computer peripherals. The mat can sense touch, gestures and recognize item placement, with its main emphasis looking to the world of video games for application. Similarly to how placing a Mario Amiibo will spawn the character in the digital world of Super Smash Brothers, Microsoft looks to offer the most comprehensive and interactive toys-to-life experience.

In Microsoft’s announcement video, the team behind Project Zanzibar demonstrates a few different games to show off how the smart mat tracks and interacts with real-world objects. Thanks to the NFC devices it pairs with, just about any object or device can interface with the mat. And as huge LEGO fans here at Toys, the most appealing application of Microsoft’s smart mat would be towards bringing your brick-built creations into the digital world.

As of now, there isn’t much information in the realm of when or if Microsoft will bring this to the masses with the release of an actual consumer product. While you can definitely tell that the smart mat is in its early stages, that doesn’t take away from the novelty and utility of what Microsoft has created. Project Zanzibar’s application may be centered around interactive gaming, but its uses are also clearly geared towards learning and education as well, meaning this could be an even bigger hit in schools than our homes.

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