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Monday December 22 2014 / Science & Technology - Art & Design - A Little Levity

Here’s something I bet many of you would like to find under your tree this Christmas: Anki DRIVE.

Described as “part toy, part video game, all out battle-racing action,” Anki DRIVE is an extreme car race that has taken the virtual gaming world and brought it to real life. Well, almost. This Scalextric set on steroids contains artificially intelligent muscle cars that not only steer themselves around a large, oval racetrack, but have built-in weapons capabilities to throw enemies off-course. And it can all play out on your living room floor. 

Invented by former Ph.D. students of robotics – Boris Sofman, Mark Palatucci and Hanns Tappeiner – Anki DRIVE has three basic parts: remote controlled cars, a racetrack and an application that operates through a phone or tablet acting as a steering device.

The racetrack is a supple, vinyl mat coated with special ink. The cars, crafted by Harald Belker – the man responsible for designing the Batmobile, the futuristic motorcycles in Tron Legacy and Iron Man’s mask – have a fast-moving-while-standing-still look and contain some impressive technology.

“There is a lot of tech in the cars, a lot of artificial intelligence and robotics,” says Stuart Collingwood of Anki DRIVE. “There is a 50mhz microprocessor in each small vehicle that processes 500 transactions a second.

Watch the video below to see Anki DRIVE gameplay:

"It talks to an app on the iPhone via Bluetooth, working out where the car is on the track and where the other vehicles are. If you tilted the mat up 30 degrees the cars would still track the course, they wouldn't slide off, because they constantly work out all the time what the wheels should be doing."

The racecars’ individual personalities are one added attraction to the game – some appear aggressive, some defensive and some look fast. But the other attraction to Anki DRIVE is user friendliness in the form of a cleverly thought out application for any iOS or Android phone or tablet.

“The phone is the brain that allows the cars to coordinate and be totally responsive,” says Palatucci.

The application allows you to command the speed, direction and special abilities of your car – such as firing a rocket to throw your opponent off track – all via Bluetooth Low Energy.

“This isn’t racing,” says Collingwood. “This is more like Mario Kart. You’ve got weapons and it’s a race to the flag.”

During a game, the technologically advanced cars speed around the sensor-equipped track. Information from the sensors allows each vehicle to “read its position and communicate it back to the phone,” says Palatucci. The cars also react to each other.

Your objective is to zero in and eliminate your rivals using built-in weapons and clever defence tactics. The more times you shoot an enemy off course, the more points you can earn.  

These points can be traded in to upgrade the car’s options. Things like more powerful weapons, better shields and stunts (such as driving in reverse), are some of the enhancement options. The more upgrades you have, the better advantage you will have over your opponents.

Because Anki DRIVE incorporates Bluetooth technology, any customization you choose will be communicated wirelessly to your car via the steering device (phone or tablet). All upgrades are permanently programmed into the cars’ memory, so if you sell or trade your speedy robot, those superior abilities go with it.

However, if you want to give less experienced drivers a chance to beat you, there is an option to level the playing field, setting all cars to have the abilities of the lowest level car. Or, if you want to practice on your own, you can set up cars with their own AI to compete against you.

After nearly seven years in development, Anki DRIVE is on sale online through the company’s website as well as through the Apple Store. There is a basic Starter Kit including two racecars, two charging cases, power cord, starter track and tire cleaner for $149.99. Other cars, racetracks and accessories are sold separately. 

Watch the video below in which Anki DRIVE co-founder Boris Sofman gives an Anki DRIVE demonstration:

Although this is an original and exceptional toy invention, Anki DRIVE does have some drawbacks. The cars have a 20-minute battery life and only four can play at a time. It also takes some patience to set up the cars with the application before battle can begin. If you do not own an iOS or Android device, then your money is better spent on a Scalextric set.

The Anki DRIVE co-founders explain how Anki DRIVE began in the video below:

One last thing about Anki DRIVE, it gives you the chance to change up that old holiday greeting of “Merry Christmas” to an intimidating, deep-throated, “let’s battle.”

For more information about Anki DRIVE, please visit:

Suggested by
Ian Skellern