Carrera’s wireless RC slot car racing sets may feature colorful characters like Spiderman, Disney/Pixar’s Cars and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they’re a far cry from what Anki Drive will offer consumers this fall. Despite its deceptive appearance as a simple racing game, Anki Drive’s cars are actually robots that are programmed via an artificial intelligence (AI) app on an iPhone or iPhone touch. In the other words Anki Drive isn’t just a racing game; it’s actually a cutting-edge robotics platform.
What’s Under the Hood?
Traditional digital race cars are fairly simple devices that have simple chips that can process user commands. In the case of Anki Drive’s cars, they have 50MHz microprocessor and Bluetooth 4.0 LE radio that senses their location on the track, communicates with the Anki Drive app and makes decisions, up to 500 per second, about what the car should do. Anki’s racers are truly driverless cars. However, players also have the option of taking control via their iOS device if they choose to.
Wait, There’s More!
At Apple’s 2013 WWDC, Anki CEO and cofounder, Boris Sofman, demonstrated some of the advanced aspects while talking about Anki Drive’s capabilities. Early in the demonstration, the cars simply cruised around the track on their own. Later, Sofman added a fourth car, named Aidan, whose mission was to pass the other cars. Aidan responded to his programming and automatically adjusted his speed and position on the track to make his way around the track on his its own. Even more impressively, Sofman was able to send a command to the other three cars to automatically block Aidan from getting past them.
Why It Is Cool
The most important thing to remember is that during the entire demonstration, the cars were calculating decisions and reading the optical sensors in the track that helps them pinpoint their position, speed, and where their opponents are. Even when Sofman did provided the input for the cars to get in Aidan’s way; the robot cars decided precisely what formations to use in order to execute Sofman’s command based on how they read Aidan’s position on the track. Although, it may have seemed like a simple display, the possibilities for robotic technology that can sense its location and make decisions without a human driver are pretty amazing.
It is inevitable that racing game manufacturers will attempt to make “smarter” car games in the future, but without the aid of highly-educated professionals like the men with Carnegie Mellon Ph.Ds. in robotics who formed Anki, it’s difficult to determine if they’ll be able to come up with products similar to Anki Drive. However, Anki has stated that Anki Drive is just the first of many consumer robotics products they want to introduce, so it is likely that they will move into other areas and may even share some of their ideas with toy companies.
Image credit: Deviant Art