Anki, a robotics startup that makes smartphone-controlled toy cars, is adding a new twist to its racing game with the introduction of trucks. The two new models, called Freewheel and X52, are hulking big rigs about three times the size of Anki's standard Hot Wheels-style race cars. Like their smaller counterparts, the trucks are guided along Anki's modular race track using artificial intelligence, while players use the company's mobile app to fire weapons, switch lanes, and change speed. The trucks go on sale starting October 3rd for $59.99 with preorders starting today, while the standard Anki starter kit will stay at $149.99.
The trucks add a few new elements to Anki Overdrive, which is the upgraded version of the company's racing game. With Overdrive's release last fall, Anki added new cars and game modes. It also let players customize the race track with snap-in pieces to add banking turns, jumps, and bridges. In standard game modes, the trucks will act just like the cars, with distinct weapons and upgrade paths for players to funnel experience points into. Alongside the trucks will be new commanders, Anki's term for the in-game AI drivers it assigns to each vehicle.
Anki's new trucks will be available on October 3rd for $59.99
To take advantage of the difference in car size, Anki is adding a new game type called Takeover. The mode lets players vie for control of a single truck on the track by being the first to disable it with the smaller, more nimble race cars. When you assume command of the truck, the mobile app's interface will shift to the truck's newly designed control screen. To try and stay in the lead, players can build up a so-called rage meter that, when full, grants invulnerability and a speed boost. If the truck comes into contact with other cars, it will knock them off the track.
Since it debuted its racing game at Apple's WWDC conference in 2013, Anki has been one of Silicon Valley's more interesting hardware startups. In one sense, it's a cutting-edge toymaker focused on making a video game come to life. It also happens to employ talented roboticists and AI experts tasked with automating parts of the game in increasingly complex ways. So although its devices look simple, the engineering underpinning its race track and cars — and the AI guiding the entire process — is only getting better with time.
With trucks thrown into the mix, Anki is creating more elaborate systems it has to keep under control. And for a toy company, that means thinking about programming as often as any other app maker. "We spend quite a bit of time on software updates," says Charles Gallant, Anki's lead UX designer. "In between hardware launches, we spent most of our time thinking how we can make this better for players — increase usability, increase fun."
"We spend quite a bit of time on software updates."
Creating a delicate balance, so that the trucks aren't overpowered and the cars remain viable combatants, has been a distinct challenge for Anki's engineering squad. But Gallant says the company's core mission involves bringing the tenants of good game design to the real world. Anki will continue to succeed if it can, as Gallant says, "be more than just a physical toy."