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While computers have gotten faster and software fancier, the humble mousepad has remained happily low-tech. But researchers at the MIT Media Laboratory are now converting the unassuming slabs of foam into information-input devices. The Media Lab’s “smart mousepad” (which draws power from the keyboard connector) reads information from a simple electronic tag that can be implanted in a variety of objects.

After the mousepad reads the tag, software connects to an online database to find out what to do. Consumer goods might pull up manufacturers’ Web sites. Setting a tagged bottle of medicine on the pad, for example, could call up the drug company’s Web page, offering more information about the medication than is included with the packaging. The Media Lab’s Henry Holtzman imagines his 3-year-old using tagged tokens to call up online images of her favorite things.

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