With Google's recent acquisition of robotic firm Boston Dynamics and Amazon announcing plans to begin delivering orders via a fleet of unmanned drones, it seems the future is going to be fully automated.
Anki Drive is an iOS fueled tech toy that marries consumer robotics and your Apple device. The Anki Drive system is a hybrid that merges a fleet of Matchbox sized racing cars with the virtual cockpit of your iPhone/iPad. CEO Boris Sofman, chief product officer Mark Palatucci and president Hanns Tappeiner formed Anki in 2010 while the three were studying for their PH.Ds in robotics at Carnegie-Mellon.
Anki's cars were designed by Harald Belker, the creative force behind the Batmobiles from the 90s as well as the vehicles from Minority Report and Tron Legacy.
The San Francisco start-up's mission? To reinvent how AI, robotics, and humans will play and interact with each other.
Anki Drive went on sale Oct. 23, exclusively, for the moment, in Apple retail stores and at Apple.com. The set can also be purchased directly from Anki.com.
Anki Drive's race track is a 102-inch by 42-inch by .02-inch vinyl mat that comes rolled up in a poster tube. The track requires no powers source and is completely portable, encouraging players to take the game anywhere there's a flat surface and the will to race.
Anki's cars were designed by Harald Belker, the creative force behind the Batmobiles from the 90s as well as the vehicles from Minority Report and Tron Legacy. At launch there are only four cars to choose from, but Anki plans on releasing an entire legion of cars as the launch continues.
At first glance, it's possible to mistake Anki Drive as an updated remote control race car kit. What look like simple remote controlled vehicles are actually autonomous, AI controlled characters challenging users on the play track. And make no mistake, these are characters. Each vehicle comes with a name and an upgradeable skill tree. Players can invest points earned in matches to acquire new skills and weapons.
The yellow Kourai and silver Boson come bundled with the track while two additional characters, Katal and Rho, are available for $69 each. While $70 may seem steep for what ostensibly seems like a Matchbox car on steroids, what you are actually purchasing is one of the most advanced pieces of commercially available AI devices on the market.
The AI controlled characters are capable of navigating and battling with both the user and the other characters on the track. Given a goal, the characters use sensors to carry out their missions, which include attempting to wipe you off the track.
The interface between your mobile device and your controlled character is relatively simple. Through a Bluetooth connection, users are able to control their speed while activating upgradeable offensive and defensive weaponry. The characters battle using virtual armaments which deplete virtual energy. A pulse carbine, tractor beam, and rear character shield are available at the onset with more powerful additions unlocked through winning matches and spending skill points.
The characters are able to read special infrared codes built into the track that let them know where they are, but more importantly where you are. The goal is to use your armaments to deplete your enemies energy, run them off the track, and win the race. By tilting your device to either the left or the right, users are able to shift their character from the inside to the outside lane of the track.
The whole thing felt similar to this scene from Star Wars:
There's the distinct impression of interacting with something as a co-performer, a teammate with your character. The two of you will progress together as abilities are unlocked and the AI becomes accustomed to your play style. It's a collaboration as opposed to simply attempting to outwit a program. The characters are all powered through a charge maintained by connecting them to recharge pods between game sessions. Anki Drive is software driven, which means that different modes other than Deathmatch may be introduced over time.
The biggest hurdle Anki Drive faces is the price for entry level access to the system. It's not priced like a toy. And there's a good reason why you've got to pick it up at the Apple Store. Anki Drive cost $199 for the base kit that comes with the track, charger, two cars, and tire cleaner. Each new AI character costs $69.
Anki Drive made me want to call in sick and rule over my army of baby AI drones while bumping the Hotline Miami soundtrack. The whole system is impressive as hell and we'd kill to see it gracing the foot of our Christmas Tree/Festivus Spire/Hanukkah Pile