Robotics and AI firm Anki wants to bring video games to the real world with Anki Drive

in General Discussion edited January 2014
During Apple's WWDC 2013 keynote on Monday, artificial intelligence and robotics firm Anki showed off a toy/video game hybrid that leverages the power of iOS and Apple's mobile devices to run a number of small, autonomous cars around a track.


The demo, which took place near the start of Apple's keynote, involved four tiny remote control cars, each communicating with an iOS device over Bluetooth LE to drive around a miniature race track. While seemingly pedestrian, the small vehicles were actually driving themselves using technology called Anki Drive.

According to Anki cofounder and CEO Boris Sofman, the cars and the software driving them are the result of five years of research and development. While Sofman failed to go in-depth on the AI tech running on iOS, he did briefly describe the hardware.

The cars are crammed with sensors and, presumably, a processor capable of digesting data and executing decisions pertaining to speed, direction and more. By taking samples thousands of times each second, the cars are capable of zipping around the supplied track at impressively quick speeds.

Sofman said during the presentation that the cars react to their surroundings in real time, and showed off the capability by having one car zoom around the track faster than the other three, evading crashes and hugging corners as if choreographed. Adding another wrinkle to the demo, the three pace cars were reprogrammed on the fly to actively try and block the fast-moving fourth car.

The ensuing exchange played out like a game of cat and mouse, with the fourth "hero" car attempting to pass the other three without crashing. Finally, Sofman introduced a game element that was up to that point missing from the display: weapons. Although not "real," the iOS device "armed" the hero car with guns that shot the other three vehicles off the track. Nothing physical was fired, but the cars reacted as though they had been hit when passing by the fourth car's line-of-sight.

There was one point in the presentation where the cars had to be reset, but that didn't detract from the promise shown by the AI system once it got going.

The Anki Drive app is available now in the App Store as an introduction to the technology and forthcoming game. Once the cars are launched this fall, with an expected price somewhere around $200, the app will transform into a controller.


  • Reply 1 of 14
    ifij775ifij775 Posts: 470member
    That demo stunk.
  • Reply 2 of 14

    This is BIG! The artificial intelligence was being created and run inside the iPad. And the control and feedback from the physical objects (cars in the demo) was smoother and faster then a human controller could have done. The more you know about what was really going on the more impressive the demo becomes!

  • Reply 3 of 14
    asciiascii Posts: 5,936member
    There should be a little cavity in the middle of the track where you dock your iPad. Plugging it in gives it power and causes it to automatically start the racing car app.

    In Uni you do toy problems and the issue with going commercial is finding something real world that will also work. These guys kind of "cheated" by choosing toy making as their real world problem, but I like the cleverness of it and wish them all the best. If a spot on an Apple keynote doesn't give you a kick start nothing will.
  • Reply 4 of 14
    iqatedoiqatedo Posts: 1,762member


    Originally Posted by ifij775 View Post

    That demo stunk.

    The demo was brilliant... once debugged. Imagine how Sofman and his tech felt with thousands of eyes boring into their backs as they reset the gear? The audience appreciated his dilemma and rewarded success with applause.

  • Reply 5 of 14

    iPhones will be driving real cars soon

  • Reply 6 of 14
    hill60hill60 Posts: 6,992member

    If you were a billionaire imagine what you could do on a NASCAR track.

  • Reply 7 of 14
    gctwnlgctwnl Posts: 278member

    Remember Clumsy Ninja from the iPhone event last fall? No surprise that the optimistic (or maybe naive) people behind it thought they would crack it by December.


    The winter of AI may be over and new hopefuls emerge, but that does not change much on the problems of doing AI on digital computers. The whole field is full of announcements that only needed to be 'scaled up', but scaling-up is something that is generally the fundamental problem with AI on digital computers.


    I'm not holding my breath on very smart stuff. These people need to (re-)read their Dreyfus.


    However, robot characters in games are reasonably OK, this might work out too. And the fun might be playing a human entrant, directly steering your car against the  robot driven cars or other players. That would not be very advanced in terms of AI, it would just be a more physical form of a computer game. More difficult, though, as the robot players do not act in a limited logical world, but in a physical one with more complexities. So, again, I'm not holding my breath for very smart stuff.

  • Reply 8 of 14
    rayzrayz Posts: 814member

    I guess I need to see a practical application for this. Right now, I don't get it.

  • Reply 9 of 14
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,716member


    Originally Posted by ifij775 View Post

    That demo stunk.

    That demo was awesome bar the one little (ok, pretty major) hiccup. The demo showed the potential of the technology. 

    I wonder how the cars can be controlled real time. Was he doing that or was everything programmed?

  • Reply 10 of 14

    I'm not surprised there was a hiccup - the comms are handled over Bluetooth yes? In an auditorium with 5000 people, most of whom will have their bluetooth switched on, there was likely to be a LOT of interference in the ether... With that in mind, I'm very impressed the demo worked at all!


    (And if it's not Bluetooth and was WiFi comms instead, there'd still be a whole load of competing signals, so my point still holds)

  • Reply 11 of 14
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,523member
    rayz wrote: »
    I guess I need to see a practical application for this. Right now, I don't get it.

    The possibilities are too numerous to list! Take just one, real cars on real roads in the future ...
  • Reply 12 of 14
    fracfrac Posts: 480member
    rayz wrote: »
    I guess I need to see a practical application for this. Right now, I don't get it.

    How about crowd control? Population dynamics? Drug/cellular level interaction? Disease control? Traffic control? Environmental clean-up operations? The possibilities are endless. Yes, software simulation does the same thing but real world application is often not as predicted.
    But the really neat thing here, is that Anki have produced a system at the hobbyist level instead of one costing $millions. All the above apart from the huge gaming possibilities.
  • Reply 13 of 14
    fracfrac Posts: 480member
    Here's my take.

    Apple: "OK Google, about those robotic cars of's ours...and it's running on an iPad" :smokey:

    Laugh?....I nearly fell off my seat!
  • Reply 14 of 14
    icoco3icoco3 Posts: 1,474member


    Originally Posted by ifij775 View Post

    That demo stunk.


    Your brain is asleep....

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