Since Furby, the bird-like robot toy, which hit markets in the 1998, the Artificial Intelligence toy market has seen impressive growth each holiday season. This year, Silicon Valley based robotics startup, Anki, has joined the mix with their new car game, Anki Drive. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of trying out the impressive Anki Drive at the home of a beta-tester and tech enthusiast.
Artificial Intelligence is when computers or technology can accomplish tasks that require human intelligence. For example, that crazy looking Furby could learn words. I taught my sister’s Furby a few choice phrases, which the Furby said to my sister. Upon discovering this, my parents were not impressed.
The Anki Drive cars, however, are no Matchbox Cars and they don’t talk like a Furby. While they are about the same size as the average slot car, these babies are powered by a whole lot more than your imagination. Each car houses an iPhone camera on the underside, as well as a plethora of other sensors on other parts of the car. These sensors feed information via Bluetooth directly to the Anki Drive iPhone app around 500 times a second.
The game itself is best described as a mash-up of Matchbox Cars, slot car racing and Mario Cart. Like slot car racing, the cars race around a track in different lanes. There are hundreds of lanes in the 2-ft wide track, and the cars seamlessly transition from lane-to-lane whenever you tilt your iPhone. The lanes are invisible to the human eye and are denoted by coding embedded in the track that is identified by the camera on the underside of each car.
Like Mario Kart, the cars are equipped with weapons. It doesn’t matter who gets around the track fastest, but only how many times you manage to disable your opponent’s cars with your arsenal of various weapons. So, the most dangerous position to be in is directly in front of your opponent. After a few battles, I quickly picked up on some of the strategy. When racing with only two cars on the track, the game is a defensive chess match in which each driver attempts to maneuver their car behind the other racer. With 3 or 4 cars, offense becomes the only effective defense.
If you don’t have any friends, Anki has your back. The cars work extremely well in AI mode. Simply select the vehicles that you want to race against from the Anki iPhone app, and let the games begin! As you race, the cars learn your strategies, and they get better and better at combating them. In addition, you can upgrade the cars weaponry, armor, and speed as you gain experience.
Now for the most important question: how much does it cost to have Anki under the Christmas tree this year? Well, it ain’t cheap. The Anki Starter Kit, complete with 2 cars, chargers, 3.5 ft by 8.5 ft racing mat, costs $199 and is available online and at your local Apple Store. Additional cars cost $70. On top of that, you’ve got to have an iPhone and 3 friends (if you have ‘em), too. You can also use an iPhone, 5th-gen iPod Touch, 3rd-gen iPad or iPad mini.
In conclusion, Anki Drive is quite possible the best gift for the tech-minded and car obsessed person in your family. Plus, the product is likely to continue getting better with time as the company releases more and more software upgrades. $199 is a lot to pay for what is ultimately a toy car, but then again, it’s a pretty awesome toy. If you are tempted, I suggest you head over to the nearest Apple store and check out Anki Drive for yourself. Or watch the video below.