Artificial Intelligence Company Anki Releases Game, Eyes Driverless Cars
October 17, 2013

Anki’s New AI Racing Game: A Stepping Stone To Autonomous Vehicles?

Michael Harper for – Your Universe Online

During this year’s WWDC in San Francisco, Apple CEO Tim Cook shared the stage with a new startup called Anki, a company that said they aimed to “make artificial intelligence accessible to everyone.” Their first example of these products was shown off in June: Tiny toy cars that are programmed to race along a track by themselves, all the while processing data that keeps them from running off the track or into one another. Though the demo didn’t go as smoothly as the rest of Apple’s presentation, the folks at Anki did leave many developers excited for their forthcoming project. Now the company says they’re ready to start selling these cars in a move to bring iOS gameplay into the real world. Though it’s been six years in the making, the Anki Drive app is now available in the App Store. The accompanying cars are forthcoming as well and should be available to the public on Wednesday, October 23.

It’s a new way to look at mobile gameplay. Though the game is played in an app, the characters of that game are racing on the floor just below your feet.

“The games and toys we’ve played with since our childhood haven’t really changed much in decades — you still see kids with blocks, race cars, and teddy bears,” said CEO and founder of Anki, Boris Sofman.

“You contrast that with the evolution of the video game industry which has skyrocketed and taken advantage of almost every major technological advancement. We thought, why couldn’t you have the best of both worlds?”

Gamers can challenge other AI-powered cars in various race scenarios or battles. As the gamer progresses and improves in the game, so too does their car. As the driver navigates the remote controlled car by tilting and steering the iPhone, the challengers are also navigating their way along the track. Each car is packed with sensors to let it know what’s going on in its environment. The small cars are equipped with a 50 MHz micro controller, low-energy Bluetooth chips and the same processing power that drives any iOS device. In other words, these are small autonomous robots that allow gamers to control them in a game with their iPhone.

This isn’t Anki’s end game, of course. With so much robotic power and potential, Anki is gunning to bring this technology to a much larger platform.

"For us, the big vision is that we're a robotics and artificial intelligence company--not necessarily a toy company. [We're] using this as a stepping stone to do more advanced things,” said Sofman.

In an interview with Fast Company, Sofman suggested this technology can be applied anywhere artificial intelligence would be appreciated, such as health care or around the office. Perhaps more enticing, Sofman said the same AI technology inside the tiny remote controlled cars could be applied to full scale, road-ready cars. Several other companies, most notably Anki’s Silicon Valley neighbor Google, are also gunning to be the first to market with a driverless and autonomous car. It could be very interesting, then, if one day drivers are able to both play and drive their Anki cars, all from their iPhones.