A top new toy in town

Tech ex­perts swap mil­i­tary work to cre­ate toys of the fu­ture

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE -

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t out­grown toys and games. Some of the most in­tel­li­gent and tech­ni­cal minds on the planet have the same is­sue. One par­tic­u­lar group is not shy about the fact though. They’re putting their gam­ing brains to very good use on a super cool, ro­botic bat­tle rac­ing game, which launches in the UAE this week.

Anki Over­drive is a game where the play­ers con­trol mini ro­botic su­per­cars via hand­held mo­bile de­vices.

Stu­art Colling­wood is gen­eral man­ager EMEA at Anki, a ro­bot­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence firm in San Fran­sisco, Cal­i­for­nia.

He ex­plains: “Our founders were all do­ing their PHDs in ro­bot­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence at the lead­ing US univer­sity Carnegie Mel­lon, and they were work­ing on big projects like in­dus­trial au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles and mil­i­tary au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. But at their core they were big Mario Kart (rac­ing video game) fans - and they were like, ‘what if we could bring that sort of game me­chanic to life’?

“We al­ways say we are a ro­bot­ics com­pany, not a toy com­pany. But we make the world’s best toys!”

Anki first caught the pub­lic eye back in 2013 at an Ap­ple World­wide De­vel­op­ers Con­fer­ence when Tim Cook cham­pi­oned the com­pany’s ef­forts with the Anki Drive, an early ver­sion of the cur­rent sys­tem.

Things were very dif­fer­ent just a few years ago as Stu­art ex­plains: “We got re­ally great sup­port from Ap­ple be­cause what we were do­ing at the time was push­ing the lim­its of what tech could do. We were work­ing with Bluetooth, with ro­bot­ics and all sorts of new tech­nolo­gies, which now are af­ford­able, to make a con­sumer prod­uct. “But if you think back to the sen­sors and all the stuff that goes into the tech­nol­ogy, well even four to five years ago it was all quite ex­pen­sive.”

The kit has proved to be a huge hit in Ger­many, the UK and the US so far.

The unique su­per­cars all in­clude dif­fer­ent vir­tual weapons, and race around the state-of-the-art mod­u­lar tracks thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of Bluetooth, in­frared sen­sors and an iPhone cam­era. Although ob­vi­ously proud to be at the cut­ting edge of tech­nol­ogy and soft­ware, Stu­art pin­points an­other cou­ple of rea­sons be­hind the game’s pop­u­lar­ity.

He says: “It was very suc­cess­ful when we launched it (Drive) but what we heard from cus­tomers was they wanted to be able to build their own tracks. So we were able to solve this re­quest, from con­sumers who want to build stuff, and so we now have this creative el­e­ment and we find kids take as much time build­ing tracks as they do rac­ing the cars. Peo­ple are build­ing tracks in gar­dens, down stair­cases, un­der beds. The great thing for par­ents also is that you can pick it up and put it away in sec­onds.” An­other pos­i­tive is that tech is be­ing used in a so­cial set­ting. In­stead of lean­ing into smart­phones and play­ing solo, kids are en­cour­aged to en­gage in bat­tle rac­ing with their fam­ily and friends. Stu­art adds: “Our fo­cus is in bring­ing ar­ti­fi­cial

GAME ON: Boris Sof­man, Hanns Tappeiner and Mark Palatucci of Anki. Above, gen­eral man­ager Stu­art Colling­wood. Right, some of the char­ac­ters a gamer could race against

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