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Meet Anki Drive, the self-driving (toy) car for your living room

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June 28, 2013

Screen capture from the Anki Drive app, highlighting its AI street smarts

Screen capture from the Anki Drive app, highlighting its AI street smarts

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Name a toy car that follows lines while navigating. A hundred years ago you would've answered slot cars, which use a physical line. Twenty years ago saw the mass production of toys that use optical sensors to navigate a printed line. This generation's new racing wonder toy, Anki Drive, still uses optical sensors to navigate an invisible line, but can adopt numerous racing strategies, detect other cars and conditions on the track, and react instantly. While nominally the successor in the toy race car market, Anki Drive arguably has more in common with a Google driverless car than it does with its scaled toy counterparts, and Anki has grander ambitions in the field of autonomous robotics.

The biggest draw of the Anki Drive system is the marrying of a physical racetrack you can lay down on your living room floor with a complex AI which changes the game on the fly without changing the cars or track. An iPhone provides not only the remote to manually steer one of the Anki Drive cars (much like with other app-enabled toys we've seen) but more importantly provides the brains for a fleet of toy cars, knowing at any time where each car is in relation to the others and coordinating their actions over Bluetooth.

Each car calculates its position 500 times per second, has individual wheel control, and purportedly can drift. The company claims that in real world scale, these toys would be driving 250 miles per hour (402 km/h) and making executions within a tenth of an inch (2.54 mm). This did indeed seem believable after watching their quick swerving and weaving in Anki's WWDC demo.

Anki Drive calculates different routes and outcomes, much like a human driver, or an AI ch...

Anki Drive calculates different routes and outcomes, much like a human driver, or an AI chess opponent

In this demo, the cars first raced in a formation around Anki Drive's course, navigating the curves without a human driver. With a change in instructions on the iOS device controlling the action, cars adopted defensive driving tactics and boxed out other cars from passing. Later, one car was assigned virtual weapons and as its shots "connected" with other cars, the victims spun out on the track. There were no real weapons, simply the AI's understanding of where each car was in relation to others and directing the hit cars to behave as if fired upon.

Similar to how the AI can assign weapon-like interactions, Anki hints that there will be five "personalities" for the cars – presumably different strategic styles that can be assigned and reassigned instantly.

By creating a toy for the mass market at a relatively low price point (currently said to be US$200 for a starter set), Anki expressed an interest in the opportunity to build demand now, and when technology advances in a few more years, be in a position to jump start something even more impressive in the field of AI.

The AnkiDrive app, available for free on the iTunes App Store, serves as an introduction to the system and will be the actual game app once the system is released. The aforementioned WWDC demo is available on YouTube, and below you can watch an introduction from Anki's founders.

Source: Anki Drive

About the Author
Heidi Hoopes Heidi measures her life with the motley things she's done in the name of scientific exploration. While formally educated in biology and chemistry, informally she learns from adventures and hobbies with her family. Her simple pleasures in life are finding turtles while jogging and obsessively winnowing through her genetic data.   All articles by Heidi Hoopes
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