Thursday, October 17, 2013

Taking Slot Cars To The AI World...

With AI here being Artificial Intelligence.  I doubt that the researchers over at MIT and in this case Carnegie Mellon are thinking too much about kids toys when they sit down for their work...but...as is nearly always the case...the most advanced tech ends up trickling down to our kids and our toys in a fashion more rapid that we tend to think.

So it is here, where a couple of really smart guys over at Carnegie Mellon have received millions of dollars in startup, venture capital funding to develop what amounts to a kid's game.  Anki is the name of the firm (anki.com) and you can go to their website to check out the company and its products or you can go here: http://techcrunch.com/2013/10/16/ankis-self-driving-toy-race-cars-will-launch-on-oct-23rd-we-go-hands-on/ to see the TechCrunch article and video on their first product.

Basically what we have is a modern, updated version of slot cars.  A pre-designed track is printed on vinyl and contained within that vinyl is code that only the associated Anki cars can see.  This code and the AI contained within the car keeps the car "on the track" as it were, preventing it from running "off the track" and chasing the cat down the hallway.  Think of it almost like an invisible dog fence for electronic toy cars.

Controlled by an iOS device (for now only iOS devices, sorry Android users) you can steer the car back and forth, accelerate, brake, etc. and also do other more video game like things such as firing infrared "bullets" at competitors, slow competitors down with infrared "tractor beams", etc.  As you move along and get better and more experience, more options and abilities of the car become available and become permanent, non-transferable additions to THAT car...so you can end up with cars with quite different capabilities.

Another point of note is that the basic kit comes with two cars.  One for you and one AI controlled car making it so that you don't need to have a buddy over to play.  The AI is evidently quite good and quite capable of beating you.

Future developments that are quite easy to forecast--things like new race track designs/layouts, different car "models" and software/AI upgrades--all available for purchase of course.  To me this looks like a cool little mashup of real world slotcar racing and AI infused gaming.  Is it a "driving" game??  Probly not.  Is it just a kids trinket?  Definitely not.  Is it cool?  Hell yes.

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