If you grew up before video games were invented, slot cars were probably how you got your driving fix as a kid.

Now, slot cars are getting a high-tech makeover.

Anki Drive cars not only don't require slots to keep from flying off the track, they also use artificial intelligence to "learn" and improve, according to Engadget.

Cars race on a specially-designed mat coated in ink with an embedded position code. Cameras on the cars read this code to figure out where everything is.

The cars are still controlled by humans though. Players use an iOS app to steer them, fire weapons (including a gun and a tractor beam), and even develop the "character" of individual cars through upgrades.

After that, the AI comes into play: with the human operator giving it the gist of what it should do, the car makes decisions about when to pass, block, or trade paint on its own.

The cars were designed by Harald Belker, whose credits include the Minority Report Lexus and the rebooted Light Cycles from TRON Legacy. The Anki cars definitely look sci-fi, with a little Mazda Furai concept thrown in.

At the end of each race, players are awarded points that can be used on upgrades, including better performance and weapons.

Here's where it gets interesting.

These upgrades are permanently installed in each car, staying with it no matter who uses it. That's how these robots get their character.

Since players have to choose from a specific tree of upgrades, no two cars will ever be exactly the same. Anki designed the system so no one car could acquire all of the upgrades.

Just like in the real world of car design, players will have to decide which qualities they want to emphasize, while inevitably sacrificing others.

The Anki Drive starter kit includes two cars--"Kourai" and "Boson"--and a track mat for $199. Additional cars cost $69 each. The robots go on sale through Anki's website and Apple stores October 23.


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