From Toy Story to Ted, Labyrinth, Pinocchio and even Chucky, the world of film has been fascinated with toys coming to life, displaying emotion and personality, and interacting with the world around them.

As far-fetched as it may sound, this conceit is what is driving a vision for the future of toys which is being imagined - and created - by Anki, a toy company driving the real and physical worlds to collide in a way never seen before.

Anki has built what it calls a "game engine for the real world" and it is planning to go far beyond the limitations of its current racing game to build a real life version of the Toy Story toy box.

Child-like enthusiasm

In a London hotel, Boris Sofman, one of the three co-founders of Anki, is grinning from ear-to-ear like a child playing with a new toy for the first time on Christmas morning. He is playing with Overdrive, a mixture of Mario Kart and Scalextric, which allows you control real-world toys using your smartphone.

It is a game he has helped create and has no doubt played thousands of times, but his continued and unwavering enthusiasm for his toy is infectious.

Anki Overdrive preview
Anki Overdrive will be launched in the UK in September, and its modular track construction promised endless reconfigurability IBTimes UK

Sofman laughs deeply after ramming my car off the road by driving the wrong way around the figure-eight track. And this idea of going against the grain is a good analogy for Anki, a company founded in 2010 by Sofman, Mark Palatucci, and Hanns Tappeiner who met in the robotics PhD program at Carnegie Mellon University.

These are not your typical toy company executives, but then Anki is not your typical toy company.

Computing, robotics and artificial intelligence

It has leveraged rapid advancements in computing, camera technology, robotics and artificial intelligence to create a product which is unlike any toy on the market today.

The company's first product, Drive, was launched in 2013 allowing players control real toy cars on an oval track using a smartphone app. The cars were able to tell exactly where they were on the track by utilising cameras on their underside which have been tuned to the infrared spectrum and which read the position of the car on the track 500 times every second. The track has been embedded with an infrared ink which allows for AI-controlled cars to race against you.

Buy Anki Drive on Amazon from $196.50

The result, Sofman says, is "a level of interaction and gameplay that exists outside the screen."

The game was a huge success, and was the number two toy on Amazon last Christmas, with the company selling out in early December so huge was the demand.

Sofman says that the popularity of Drive, and toys in general, is down to people's love of controlling the physical, despite the huge advances being made in video games.

The reason the toy industry has stayed as strong as it has is not because of the gameplay - in fact they have evolved in gameplay capabilities nearly as much as they should have - but there is something really powerful to the physicality of something you can touch and actually see in the real world.

Not toys in the traditional sense

Anki's key selling point, Sofman says, it the way it combines the the virtual world and physical worlds to attain "the familiarity of a racing game but with a depth that hasn't really been possible" before.

We are making what we feel is video games in the real world
- Boris Sofman, Anki co-founder

The company's second product, Overdrive, looks to build on the initial success, adding the ability to create your own environments by launching modular tracks which are "scalable and infinitely reconfigurable".

But it is the software which is where the really clever things happen.

Anki Overdrive preview
Boris Sofman, CEO and co-founder of Anki believes his company has created a "game engine for the real world" IBTimes UK

Anki is investing heavily in giving the characters in its game depth and personality. It hired Joby Otero in October 2014, the former creative director for Activision's hugely popular Skylanders franchise, as its chief creative officer, and by the time Overdrive launches in September 2015, Anki says it will have a much more immersive environment and backstory for its characters and their storylines.

"It's our biggest advantages as a company. We are not making toys in the traditional sense, we are making what we feel is video games in the real world and the result of that is that software defines every element of the gameplay. We are programming a video game on top of these characters."

While moving the focus onto the game's characters may sound like Anki is going down the route paved by Rovio with Angry Birds and it could soon be selling plush toy version of its in-game Commanders, Anki's true plans for the future are much more exciting.

A "game engine for the real world"

Sofman says that the company has now built "a game engine for the real world" and this opens up almost endless possibilities for creating a new generation of toys which will interact with you and the world around them.

Anki Overdrive app
Anki Overdrive will focus much more on the game's characters than the original IBTimes UK

"For us, the exciting thing is to start thinking about these [cars] as more general characters that maybe aren't even cars and start working towards Pixar in 3D."

Pixar's most famous creation is of course Toy Story, an animated tale about toys coming to life. It is the potential to make this a reality which is clearly firing Sofman's imagination:

"You now have the ability to have a character that is so aware of its environment and its ability to express itself in that environment that you can start building a level of personality and emotion in those characters that really hasn't been possible outside of a screen."

I think the same reason toys have been so successful up until now because of that physicality, that level of character and self expression that we love so much in animated films and video games, I think the impact of it is going to be vastly more powerful in the real world."

Leveraging the power of the virtual world, smartphones, artificial intelligence, camera technology and computing to create a toy for the physical which is beyond anything on offer today is a hugely exciting prospect - though only if we go down the Toy Story route and not the path of Chucky.

Anki Overdrive will be released in US and UK, as well as select other European countries in September with the Start Kit containing two cars and 10 sections of track costing $150 (UK pricing will be announced later in the year).