I’ll confess that I’d heard of Anki Drive before, but it was really only in passing. So when I was given the opportunity to check everything out first-hand, I was definitely curious. There were some surprises and a few disappointments, but after some time spent tearing around the track I couldn’t help but be impressed. Is this the next step in remote control racing? That’s not for me to say, but it’s definitely in interesting experiment.
Imagine a semi-futuristic racing game in which you can compete with your friends or AI opponents on various tracks in an attempt to upgrade existing cars and possibly gain access to new ones. Picture all of the vehicles in each race have weapons and shields. Now imagine that the cars are actually physical electronic toys you can carry around with you. Now you’ve got a good idea of what Anki Drive is.
Each starter set comes with two cars and the necessary cables, as well as a track printed on something akin to vellum. You’ll also need to download the free Anki Drive app to control everything, of course. Once you do, simply turn on your cars, place them on the track, then use the app to find them and add them to your “garage” where you can spend points won through races to upgrade their stats. When you’re ready to start, you just set up a race and select your vehicle. If you want to invite a friend they can simply select the other car, or you can scan it in yourself and race against the AI. Yes, the physical car is controlled by AI. In fact, one of the newest additions to the lineup, Corax (pictured below), can only be used as a player vehicle if it’s beaten in an AI race first.
Weapons are also important, and will allow you to incapacitate your opponents temporarily during a heated race. Or you can simply battle each other to see who scores the most hits. The interesting thing is, again, that this is all happening with real remote controlled cars via your iPhone. When a car takes too much damage or runs out of juice, it will actually grind to a halt for a few moments while it recharges itself. Heck, these things can even recognize when they’re driving the wrong way and turn themselves around automatically.
The thing is, I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is. The cars seem fairly durable and were able to shrug off the occasional collision easily, but at almost $70 apiece they’re a bit outside the realm of a children’s toy. $199.99 for the starter kit is nothing to sneeze at, either. And yet, the underlying tech is pretty darn cool. I guess you could say your mileage may vary.