Almost two years after it launched on Apple’s devices, the Anki Drive smartphone racing game is debuting on Android today.
Anki’s robotic car toys are following a familiar pattern for the mobile sector: Products debut on Apple’s platforms as exclusives, and then they launch later on Android to reach wider audiences. But the gap between the smartphone platforms was a particularly long one, in part because of technical challenges with the Android platform.
With Anki Drive, you use your smartphone to control a car racing around a track against robotic cars with sophisticated artificial intelligence. You roll out a mat on the ground that serves as a race track. You can place two cars down on the track that will start driving around on their own. Then those vehicles will adapt and learn how to compete better. You can then control the game through the smartphone app, which enables you to steer your own car and fire vehicle weapons. While the cars can keep themselves racing around the track, you can make them do tight or wide turns.
Founded by robotics experts at Carnegie Mellon University, Silicon Valley startup Anki has worked on the technology for six years and has raised $105 million to date, including a new $50 million round this month led by J.P. Morgan, with participation from previous Anki investors Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures and Two Sigma.
Android users with a Samsung S4, S5, or Note 3, 4, or 10.1 (2014 Edition) or a Nexus 5 can download and play Anki Drive from the Google Play Store. Anki will add more Android devices over time; the list will be updated here.
Anki said it was a challenge to add Android because Drive vehicles require Bluetooth low energy support, and only a small number of Android devices have the features that the system requires.
Anki will introduce seven cars, Corax, Hadion, Rho, Katal, Boson, Kourai, and Spektrix. An Anki starter kit costs $150 in the U.S. and Canada. The starter kit includes two cars, a tire cleaner, charging cases, a charger, and race mat. The smartphone apps are available for free download. Expansion cars cost $50.
The design of Anki Drive is clever. The track mat has an ink that the company has embedded with a code. That tells the car where it is on the track and where it is relative to other cars. Each car also a tiny camera under it that can read that information. The cars have a 50-megahertz processor, a multicolor LED, and a Bluetooth low-energy radio to communicate with the smartphone. Anki says the cars can drive so precisely that the real-world equivalent would be driving down a highway at 250 miles per hour with a tenth of an inch clearance on either side.
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