A top new toy in town
Tech experts swap military work to create toys of the future
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