If you haven’t heard of the Anki line of racing games, get ready to throw money at your computer monitor. Combining adaptive AI, model cars and video games, Anki Drive is quite possibly one of the coolest toys ever made.

Here’s how it works: First, a variety of wild-looking plastic cars equipped with tiny sensors are placed on a track. The sensors are designed keep these cars between the track edges. Using a smartphone as a controller, players can then compete against one another, managing throttle and swerving left to right, as well as unleashing special abilities. The AI keeps the cars from flying off into parts unknown, while the humans busy themselves with battle racing. Special abilities include the Vulcan Cannons, which damage enemy vehicles, and the Scrambler, which causes opponents to momentarily lose control. You can even upgrade your car with points awarded after each race.

The toy was first unveiled in 2013, and included a single oval racetrack. Now, the company is planning a follow-up called Overdrive, which incorporates flexible track components that enable customized layouts, with ramps, jumps, spirals, and just about anything else you could imagine.

Anki Overdrive is slated for release this September. Prices are expected to be around $150 for a 10-piece starter kit, with $50 required for each additional car and $10-$30 for additional track components.

Click past the jump to read more about Anki’s new Overdrive game.

Why It Matters

When robotics scientists decide to have fun, we all win. It’s certain that Anki Overdrive will be a resounding success in the realm of pastimes, but from a broader perspective, this toy demonstrates just how far AI technology has progressed. To be able to stuff this much tech into such a tiny package and at such a low price is actually quite astonishing. It makes the inevitability of fully-autonomous vehicles appear closer than ever.

So then, what’s next? How about outfitting the cars with optical cameras that feed to a piece of equipment like the Oculus Rift or Google Glass, creating scale-model reality video games? In fact, you could take that kind of technology up a level. Imagine a race series where the cars were controlled remotely, with pilots wielding missiles and rocket boosters to blast their way to the front.

Actually… anyone got Bernie Ecclestone’s phone number? I think I just figured out how to make Formula 1 interesting again.

Source: USA Today

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