The advent of videogames seemed to have consigned the days when fathers and sons stood around a table and watched toy cars race around and around a track to the history books, but one company is looking to bring those days back by leveraging artificial intelligence, robotics and the designer of the original Batmobile.
As Scalextric sets gather dust on the top of wardrobes, forgotten in spare rooms around the world, consumer robotics and artificial intelligence startup Anki is looking to bring back the physical thrill of seeing cars racing around a track while drawing inspiration from videogames like Mario Kart to make it appealing to the younger generation.
Backed to the tune of $50 million by venture capital firms including the renowned Andreessen Horowitz and founded in 2010 by Boris Sofman, Mark Palatucci, and Hanns Tappeiner who met in the robotics Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon University.
A videogame for the real world
The company's first product is Drive, which launched in the US last October, and is described by the company as the world's first videogame programmed for the real world - and it goes on sale in the UK for the first time this week.
Using the Anki Drive app on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch you control the speed and track position of your car, which can race against up to five opponents at once.
The clever part of the technology is a camera on the bottom of the cars which have been tuned to the infrared spectrum and which reads the position of the car on the track 500 times every second.
The track has been embedded with an infrared ink which the cars read, and which allow for AI-controlled cars to race against you.
Mario Kart inspired
As well as being a straight-up racing game, Anki Drive brings in elements children will be used to from videogames like Mario Kart, with players being able to equip their cars with weapons, speed boosts and power ups.
The target demographic for the product Anki says is six to 12-year-old boys - but also their fathers.
To help attract the older generations, Anki retained the services of Harald Belker, the tall German who designed the Batmobile from the 1996 Michael Keaton film as well as cars from Minority Report and Tron Legacy. Cars, Anki believes, are something which appeal to all generations, and the company is clearly hoping to stir something of the child in older customers seeing to relive their youth.
While cars racing around a track is the big selling point of Anki Drive, the company founder Boris Sofman says that the artificial intelligence and robotics which are under the hood of the product is what is really exciting:
"We wanted to completely re-think the way we play using AI and robotics. With DRIVE, we're taking what people loved about their favourite race car growing up, layering in the challenging game play found in videogames, and giving it a 21st century boost. We're modernising the race car experience so that you and your friends can have more fun."
Sofman told IBTimes UK that Anki's second product is 30-40% complete and is "really cool" but wouldn't go into any more details at this stage, refusing to even confirm if it will be an entertainment product.
The profile of the company was given a huge boost at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in 2013 when it was among the very select group of companies sharing the stage with the iPhone maker.
The opportunity came about when investor Marc Andreessen pitched the product directly to Apple's CEO Tim Cook, proving that having good backers is not just all about the money.
The company is clearly eager to remain in Apple's good books, as Anki Drive doesn't work with Android or Windows Phone devices, but the company says it is looking into supporting other platforms - though inconsistent Bluetooth support is a factor in not doing so.
Anki is also being sold exclusively through Apple's stores in the UK from Wednesday, though in the US it is also available elsewhere, such as on Amazon - something which will also happen in the UK in time.
The starter kit, which comes with two cars and the track costs £180, with extra cars costing £50.