Anki brings EMP weapon to its real-world racing game

The San Francisco startup mashing up the physical with the virtual bridges the gap even further in a new app update for its DRIVE bundle.

Anki Drive cars
Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Anki is infusing the toy cars for its real-world race track with even more video game flavor. A new update, released Friday, raises the customization list for its cars to 20 upgrades and adds new weapons, making its physical race track and software-fueled video game hybrid an even more complex media mashup.

Some of the cooler additions: an Bond-esque electromagnetic pulse weapon that lets you disable other opponents and a 180-degree turn option for quickly escalating a race into an all-out Maria Kart-style battle arena. The update also makes it easier to switch between upgrades, allowing for more casual experimentation.

The San Francisco-based startup, which made a splash when it took the stage back at Apple's WWDC in June of 2013 , is grounded in the simple concept of remote control toy car racing. But by throwing in some sophisticated artificial intelligence and hinging the entire experience on software from its companion iOS app, which is used to control the cars, players can do everything from fire virtual weapons against friends to race against complex AI opponents with various levels of difficulty.

Using a roll-up race track fitted with special ink and optics, the cars -- whether they're driven by you or the simulation in the app -- transmit where they are on the map, allowing the software to keep the wheels on the ground even at high speeds. The cars communicate using Bluetooth Low Energy, meaning response times are quick and the moves can be made from up to 30 feet away.

"What we're doing at Anki is using robotics and artificial intelligence to do something that's never been done before," CEO Boris Sofman told CNET back in October of last year. "We can actually program video games on top of physical characters in the real world."

Like most video games, players earn points by playing the game and those points are put towards upgrades like the new EMP weapon. That however opens up the uncomfortable possibility of Anki monetizing that system with in-app purchases. That's something that may not sit well with players given that the entry cost for Anki is far higher -- at $200 for a starter kit with a track and two cars -- than even a Nintendo 3DS bundle. Sofman clarified though that Anki has no intention of pursuing that kind of business model, instead focusing on giving players a reason to keep playing and nothing else.

Anki is currently out available for iOS only. While its starter kit is $200, additional cars go for $70 each and the track can support up to four at the same time. Anki hopes to continue updating its app and adding new features as 2014 rolls forward.

 

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