Anki announces release date for Anki Drive robotic race cars

Anki, the robotic start-up backed by $50 million in venture capital that made a splash at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June, has just released details on its first product, Anki Drive.

Anki Drive will be available for $199 in Apple stores in the U.S. and Canada, on and starting Oct. 23. (The base set comes with two cars and a track, with additional cars available for $69 each.) Apple recently sent invites to a press event on Oct. 22, where it is presumed the company will discuss its next-generation iPads and MacBook computers. More details on Anki Drive could emerge at that time.

The game looks like a traditional slot car set, but uses sophisticated robotics and artificial intelligence to create a real world-video game hybrid that you control with your phone. In a blog post yesterday titled “The Future of Consumer Robotics,” Anki co-founder Boris Sofman emphasized that he sees Anki Drive as a gateway to bringing robotics into consumer products.

“As exciting as this step is for us, we look at it as much more than just the launch of our first product,” he wrote. “We see it as a key step in a massive new industry still in its infancy. We see Anki Drive as a milestone in consumer robotics, and a demonstration of how transformative robotics and artificial intelligence technologies can be to categories that have yet to be touched by them.”

Sofman says Anki Drive in its current form wouldn’t have been possible even five years ago, largely because of cost constraints. He also notes that it represents a foundation of technologies that will serve as building blocks for future products.

“We’ve been able to take advantage of a unique ecosystem of components that are more capable and affordable than ever before, and benefit from the prevalence of powerful mobile devices,” he wrote. “Even with this, it required a great deal of exploration and creativity to combine such diverse technologies to enable a truly intelligent product, at a tiny fraction of the cost typically seen in robotics.”

The San Francisco-based company has quickly become one to watch in robotics. It’s obviously well funded by Andreessen Horowitz and Index Ventures (the Anki Drive cars were designed by Hollywood’s Harald Belker, who envisioned vehicles for movies like “Tron,” “Minority Report” and “Batman & Robin”). And given its relationship with Apple, Anki has as good a chance as any of breaking into the consumer market.

[ image courtesy of Anki ]