Feature-rich combination of physical and virtual gameplay. Well designed and fun racing system for the whole family.
Easy to set up tracks
Feature-rich app enriches the experience
Incredibly cool toy
Cars are often unable to find their way back when they go off the track
Cars sometimes disconnect from the race
Do you remember the old slot-racing, where you have these modular slot-track pieces to create a track? You’re likely familiar with the analog format, where you’re only able to race as many cars as you have lanes. Then came the digital format, where there were crossover sections that allowed the cars to switch lane to lane. These tracks supported more cars for each lane. What I’m going to review here is the next evolutionary step, although not so new.
When searching for Christmas gifts this year for my kids, I stumbled upon something that I’m surprised not to have found earlier, that is Anki Overdrive.
The company behind it, Anki, is a startup company from 2013 that focuses on consumer robotic toys.
During the WWDC 2013, they released their first consumer product, Anki Drive. It’s their first step into the robotic racing space (The official support for Anki Drive ended on November 17, 2017.)
In September 2016 they released Anki Overdrive, a successor of Anki Drive, which this post will be about.
In October 2016 they released the AI toy robot, Cozmo. An intelligent robot with personality that’s equipped with various sensors and a camera to help it know its surrounding. Requires a tethered phone to be fully operated.
In September 2018 they released a new AI toy robot, Vector. Another intelligent robot with personality but with more sensors and features such as Amazon’s Alexa integration. It also doesn’t require a phone to be tethered for it’s potential.
Table of Contents
What is Anki Overdrive
The modern generation of slot-racing appears to be about AI controlled robotic cars where you use a mobile application to control the cars. It doesn’t stop there, the cars are all equipped with virtual weaponry to help you slow down or disable your opponents.
In the starter kit I received the following (bought from UK Amazon).
Two cars, named Skull and GroundShock
10 pieces of track – four straight and six 90° curved track pieces
Two riser pieces
4-Car charging platform
AC Power Supply (input: AC 100-240V, 0.35A, 50-60Hz, output: DC 5V, 2A) with three different power plugs
With the starter kit you’re able to create the following 8 layouts.
Additionally you’re able to purchase different expansions to enhance the experience, such as an intersection track piece (Collision Kit) and a ramp (Launch Kit). With each expansion they give you additional ideas of layouts.
How it works
The technology behind Overdrive is explained briefly in the following video by Anki.
Each track piece has infrared encoding patterns embedded in the track. There is an IR transparent ink coat on the track, for traction and protection. The codes, seen on the picture below, serve as markers of lane position (16 possible lanes). They’re also markers for the type of track piece and its orientation.
The cars are therefore able to react differently depending on where they are in relation to the overall track, how fast they’re moving and in which direction they’re headed.
Each car is equipped with a tiny 50MHz computer and an infrared camera. The infrared markings on the track pieces are scanned by the camera at 500Hz to determine and maintain position.
Bluetooth LE is used for communication between the car and the mobile device.
Before a race, the cars scan the track to discover the path of the track by using SLAM algorithms (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping). You’re shown in real time the track being drawn on your mobile device screen. The location of every car on the track is also shown during the scanning.
Now that the location of every car on the track is always known, they’re able to use that information for their virtual weaponry. When an input is received by the user, the cars can react depending on their location and weaponry.
My experience and findings
I bought the starter kit, an additional car (Guardian) and the intersection track piece (Collision Kit). The track does support up to four cars at the same time.
The box is well organized, how everything fits and the neat design of how the cars were hold in place with simple clips. A welcome addition were the three different power plugs, now that UK doesn’t use the same power plug as we do in Iceland or other countries in Europe.
They recommend us to keep the track in the box when its not in use, but I did actually buy a carrying bag that fits the whole starter kit quite well.
I was surprised by the quality of the track pieces and how easy it is to build the tracks with these magnetic contacts. The kids were able to build a track in seconds while I was downloading the Anki Overdrive app on my mobile device. My 3 year old was even able to manipulate the track fairly easily.
When you open the app you have to register a new driver. When you want to register the kids as drivers, you’re offered to link their account to their parental e-mail. The registration was smooth for both me and my children. Now my kids can progress on their own, even on someone else’s track.
After the registration you have to finish an initial setup before you can race. During the initial setup I made a mistake by putting the car I bought separately on the charging dock with the other two that came with the kit. It resulted in some confusion that I was unable to solve until I found out that I’m able to turn off the cars manually as shown in the following picture.
My kids almost lost interest for how long the initial setup took me but when the race started it was all forgotten fast.
The cars pair automatically with the app, so there are no Bluetooth pairing complication to be fought.
The pathfinding of the robotic cars during the initial scanning was impressive and to some it might feel like magic how they line themselves up before a race on the starting line.
The cars were able to hold themselves well on the track for the most part. Every now and then you need to clean the track with a microfiber cloth and use the tire cleaner so the cars are more easily controllable and so they keep themselves on the track at fast speeds.
When the cars go off the track they search for their way back. If they don’t find their way back soon, they usually start spinning around themselves for tens of circles or drive away from the track. The chaotic behavior can make some funny moments.
There is one thing that I’ve yet to figured out. The cars do, now and then, disconnect from the race. When they do so, they become uncontrollable and drive on their own speed, even when the race is over. Only way I’ve found to get the car back in working condition is to turn it off and back on after the race is over.
I’m impressed by the available virtual weaponry and progression, more about that in the next section.
Anki Overdrive Mobile Application and Progression
The mobile application is well designed. It’s fairly simple for my non-English speaking kids. It’s easy to setup a race with more than one device and the progression is actually plentiful.
You’re able to choose between 7 ‘Open Play’ mods if you have the Supertruck or 6 if you don’t. All the mods can be played both in single player and multiplayer.
Race – Finish a number of laps first to win
Battle – First player to score up to a number of point wins. You get points for disabling another vehicle.
One Shot – Same as Battle except you only need to hit the opponent once to disable him.
Battle Race – Finish a number of laps first to win by any means possible
King of the Hill – First one to disable another player becomes the king. The longer you have the crown, the more points you earn. Reach the point limit to win. (my favorite)
Time Trial – Solo race against the clock. Drivers take turn in finishing their laps as fast as possible and the winner is the one who does so faster.
Takeover – Take control of the Supertruck by being the first one to disable it. Earn points by disabling cars when you are the Supertruck.
There is also a campaign that you can do solo or co-op with another driver. The other drivers progress just as much as the one who creates the game.
You get ingame credit for winning and losing races. The deeper you get into the campaign mode the more credit you earn and you unlock harder NPC opponents.
There are also daily goals that can give you bunch of credit. Every few hours the goals are reset with new ones. Your goals are of various types such as winning a certain type of race with a certain type of weapon or with a different types of tracks.
You use your credit in a credit shop. Every day, you’re offered new items in the credit shop to buy. You’re also able to pay small amount of credit to refresh the shop. That small amount increases every time you refresh the shop.
The cars do all have separate levels and you gain experience points for every win or loss. Leveling up your car unlocks more upgrade slots. Over hundred of upgrades are available and some of them are to increase the cars attributes such as its armor, speed or health. You’re also able to equip upgrades to allow you to carry more virtual weapons or support items and to enhance your current weapons.
All the virtual weapons and support equipment appear to be of different rarity defined by levels. I was impressed with the variety of weapon types and I’m looking forward to try them all.
You can optain up to 7 Supercars, two Fast & Furious cars, and 2 Supertrucks. The Anki Overdrive track does also support the older Anki Drive cars when you use them with the Anki Overdrive app.
What I find odd with the mobile app is that there is another ingame shop to buy all the missing track pieces and cars but it takes you to their official website at checkout. Unfortunately they don’t appear to ship outside of US from their official website so it’s not of much use for the rest of us.
I’m impressed with the design of the tracks and the feature-rich app. I’m itching every day to finish the daily goals and progress further to try out all the equipment.
I’m having a blast with my kids when we’re playing together and would really like to own more missing pieces of the track and the cars.
I foresee my family to have a lot of fun with the track in the coming weeks and perhaps also in the coming years, hoping that Anki continues to support the track. They’ve been adding new features and cars since the release 2016.
For me the track was worth it but I should mention that I got it on a 50% holiday sale.