Project Zanzibar: A Portable and Flexible Tangible Interaction Platform

Nicolas Villar, Daniel Cletheroe, Greg Saul, Christian Holz, Oscar Salandin, Tim Regan, Misha Sra, Hui-Shyong Yeo, William Field, Haiyan Zhang

2018 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) |

Published by ACM

Best paper award

We present Project Zanzibar, a flexible mat that locates, uniquely identifies, and communicates with tangible objects placed on its surface, as well as senses a user’s touch and hover gestures. We describe the underlying technical contributions: efficient and localised Near Field Communication (NFC) over a large surface area; object tracking combining NFC signal strength and capacitive footprint detection, and manufacturing techniques for a rollable device form-factor that enables portability, while providing a sizable interaction area when unrolled. In addition, we detail design patterns for tangibles of varying complexity and interactive capabilities, including the ability to sense orientation on the mat, harvest power, provide additional input and output, stack, or extend sensing outside the bounds of the mat. Capabilities and interaction modalities are illustrated with self-generated applications. Finally, we report on the experience of professional game developers building novel physical/digital experiences using the platform.

Project Zanzibar: A Portable and Flexible Tangible Interaction Platform

Project Zanzibar, a completely new sensing platform in the form of a flexible, portable mat that has the ability to locate, sense and communicate with objects as well as sense a user’s touch. The Project Zanzibar mat combines capacitive sensing and Near Field Communication (NFC) in a novel way, enabling multitouch and hover gesture input to coexist with physical object manipulation and control. The Project Zanzibar research platform also introduces the power of portability in a tangible user interface because rather than provide its own display, it takes advantage of existing devices such as tablets. Roll it up, stow it and break it out at a picnic or on a train trip. Or in any room in the house that has a screen.