Do you remember the video game Mortal Kombat? Well, instead of watching flickering images of characters fighting on screen, you may soon be able to watch live robots fighting in your living room! Even better, you get to control the action right from your iPhone or iPod touch. Anki is bringing robots and artificial intelligence to the masses in a big way, starting with their first app, Anki Drive. According to the official description in Apple’s App Store, “Anki Drive is a new kind of entertainment: a video game brought to life in the real world.”
The Story Behind Anki
The seeds of Anki’s creation were sowed in the summer of 2007 while Mark Palatucci, Boris Sofman and Hanns Tappeiner were Ph.D. students in Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. The three became friends and tossed around ideas about how they could turn their robotics knowledge into a consumer product. Around the same time Apple introduced the iPhone, which helped incite smartphone popularity. Their goal was to combine artificial intelligence and robotics into a physical video game that users could control via their iOS device.
How Anki Drive Works
Despite the overwhelmingly brilliant artificial intelligence behind Anki Drive’s functionality, the actually mechanics of it are fairly simple. The race track itself has optical encoding so that the cars can sense their position on the track as well as the position of other cars. The cars themselves are small robots with dual motors and a camera so they can sense the track. They also have Bluetooth so that you can easily control them from your app. The app handles most of the computations needed to process what the cars are reading via the iOS device and transmits information back and forth between the device and the robot cars.
So, it’s Like Remote Control?
Anki Drive is not like driving remote control cars around. These miniature robots are “smart” devices because they can sense their surroundings and adjust speed, trajectory, etc., based on their readings. In other words, if you plow a remote control car into a barrier, it just stops dead. With an Anki Drive robotic car though, the car will try to back away from the barrier and resume its course. There is another difference too; remote control cars don’t have weapons to knock other cars off the track. Yes, Anki added that as well.
Keep in mind that while Anki Drive may initially seem like a simple racing game, it’s actually the first in a series of sophisticated artificial intelligence products that will make robotics a part of our everyday lives. The possibilities are endless. Robotic fighters, robotic teachers, maybe even some day you will be able to tell Rosie the Robot to clean your house while you’re in the middle of a meeting at work. The vast potential of the idea truly puts new meaning into the phrase, “There’s an app for that.”