New Smart Car: Anki Drive Powered By Artificial Intelligence

PHOTO: Drive, the debut product from Anki, brings advanced artificial intelligence to the household in the form of toy cars.
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A lot of artificial intelligence work has focused on big ideas and big ticket items: autonomous cars, self-stabilizing military transporters, and space exploration vehicles.

But what about artificial intelligence for the home -- and specifically for toys?

Anki, a company co-founded by Boris Sofman, is starting to address that question with its debut product, Drive. The new product has gotten tremendous support from Apple as well, including a chance to demo during this year's WWDC conference, as well as the chance to directly reach customers in Apple stores. Drive will be available on Oct. 23 for $199.

Drive is like Mario Kart brought into the physical world. Players start the racing game by picking one of four different race cars, each programmed with its own "personality" that determines how it navigates the track. Players won't be physically steering their vehicles the same way they would a remote-controlled car. What they do have is control over how their cars behave, from deciding what upgrades to apply to improve a car's abilities to deciding what weapons to deploy to mess up rivals.

It may seem that taking the steering out of driving would also take out the fun, but Sofman said that this allows the cars to zip around as quickly as they do. "If you were to scale them up, these cars would be going 250 miles per hour," he told ABC News. "All the cars are equipped with sensors and software that can monitor position 500 times each second."

The processing power required for those quick calculations don't actually need to be calculated by a supercomputer or even a standard desktop computer. The iPhone and iPod Touch have enough power to function both as a controller and the game console itself. "Eighty percent of a video game's processing power goes towards graphics, but the graphics here are the physical world," said Sofman. "Instead, we use maybe 90 percent of the processing power dedicated to the artificial intelligence."

"If you were to scale them up, these cars would be going 250 miles per hour."

The algorithms are what Anki is banking on for its success, not just for Drive but for all of its future products. "We would definitely not call ourselves a toy company, or even an entertainment company," Sofman said. "We're trying to take the tech found in the fields of space and defense, pull them out of the labs, and put them into peoples' lives."

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