It’s common knowledge that turning any task into a game a) makes it fun and b) gets it done. So when relatively unknown robotics startup, Anki, debuted its new race car game at the Worldwide Developers Conference, it was clear that it had managed to make the coolest new entertainment product from the most complex combination of consumer artificial intelligence and robotics yet.
Deceptively sleek, the AnkiDrive system looks like a simple toy racing game, albeit one controlled from a mobile iOS. But the $200 product, available to consumers this fall, is packed with optical sensors, wireless chips, motors and microcontrollers — and it’s one of the most sophisticated answers to a serious roadblock in robotics.
Mobile devices, unsurprisingly, move and for an autonomous robot that can move anywhere, that poses the overwhelming issue of unpredictable, changing environments.
Military and industrial robotics, with millions of dollars in backing, have produced results, but Anki has translated the highest level of robotics and AI technology into a consumer-friendly product at (comparatively) consumer-friendly prices.
At the heart of AnkiDrive is a system designed for processing real-time positioning, reason and decision-making through components that check the cars’ driving logic 500 times per second and convey positioning logistics to the wheels every two milliseconds.
Were Anki’s toy cars full-size (like the autonomous cars that founders Boris Sofman, Mark Palatucci, and Hanns Tappeiner worked on at Carnegie-Mellon) they would race at 250 mph and with a precision of one tenth of an inch.
This technology means that players can control a car, race it against other player-controlled cars and even autonomous cars (that happen to be faster and smarter than their counterparts).
During the company’s demonstration at the WWDC keynote event, Sofman and his co-founders raced three cars against a fourth autonomous car, blocking it as much as possible with their own. The fourth outmaneuvered the other three and even used a “weapon” to “shoot” the others without any programming.
Marc Andreessen, partner in Andreessen Horowitz venture capital firm and board member at Anki, wrote on his blog: “Playing Anki Drive, their first product, is a delight for people of any age. “It’s amazing to see fully autonomous robot cars in high-speed races, making thousands of independent decisions per second, maneuvering and competing, in ways never before possible. Your jaw drops.”
Andreessen Horowitz has been at the top of Anki’s funding, which now totals $50 million to develop AnkiDrive and future products. While Andreessen said this is “the best robotics startup I have ever seen,” it’s not the firm’s first investment into consumer robotics and AI.
Last month, another Andreessen Horowitz beneficiary, Airware, received a $10.7 million Series A toward developing a universal OS and platform for drones — none of which are military-focused.
Anki Drive is a first, very promising step toward a mass consumer robotics and AI market. Between the company’s new funding and a deal with Apple to sell the iOS-compatible cars in Apple stores worldwide, Anki has both the means and the platform to continue creating fun and brilliant products.Read More