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Anki Drive Brings Slot Cars Into IPhone Era: Rich Jaroslovsky

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The base set, which costs $200, consists of two cars and a mat that serves as the track.0xA0Photographer: Courtesy Anki DRIVE

In a season that will see the arrival of both a new Xbox and PlayStation, what if the coolest game turns out to be a couple of plastic race cars whizzing around a vinyl mat?

This is Anki Drive , a unique combination of real-world objects and computer technology that's sort of like a video racing game come to life.

Anki Drive, which made its public debut earlier this year at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, is like a slot car set without the slot. It uses artificial intelligence and advanced robotics to imbue its race cars with distinct personalities that then evolve the more you play with them, depending on your own skills and capabilities.

The base set, which costs $200 and is available from Apple's retail and online stores, consists of two cars and the mat that serves as the track. Additional cars are $70 each. When not in use, the cars reside in plastic pods that double as charging stations via an included, multi-headed USB cable.

You start by downloading Anki's free app for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Once it and the car are paired, the device becomes the controller. Tilting your device to one side or the other causes the car to swerve; you can also control your speed and your car's specific capabilities, such as a tractor beam to slow down cars ahead of you, or pulse weapons to momentarily disable them.

Along the way, you earn badges for various achievements and, of more practical benefit, points you can redeem for additional weapons and capabilities. You can play against other people, an AI opponent, or both.

The behind-the-scenes technology may be wildly sophisticated, but it enhances rather than gets in the way of the game play. For instance, the fact that the system won't let you steer your car off the track makes it all the more satisfying when you force a foe into a spinout with a well-placed pulse blast.

Now that Anki has updated the slot car for the iPhone generation, what's next? I hereby nominate the classic electric-football game -- you know, the one with the vibrating field that would sometimes cause your player to spin around in mid-run and race for his own end zone.

Now there's a guy who could really use a little intelligence, artificial or otherwise.

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