Hot Wheels Are Now AI-Powered, Making Us Feel Even Older
A few years ago, the startup Anki impressed the crowd at an Apple event by showing off some toy race cars with AI capability baked in. One wouldn’t expect the toy-car giant Hot Wheels to sit back and let a little startup do donuts all over its turf, right?
It took a while, but Hot Wheels has released its own artificial intelligence package. It’s similar to Anki’s, in that it’s a slot-cars-without-the-slots toy set, but it’s both less “intelligent” and more open-ended than Anki’s system. It’s also not entirely original: It uses technology from Real FX, an erstwhile Kickstarter project that launched its own racing system last year. To the Real FX platform, Hot Wheels has added redesigned controllers and swappable car shells.
First, the similarities between this system and Anki’s: Both use specially encoded tracks and infrared sensors under each car to guide the vehicles around the course. In Hot Wheels AI, you can race against the “computer” or another human; in the computer-driven mode, the cars will just stay on the road no matter what.
Like the second-generation Anki Overdrive package, Hot Wheels’ tracks are modular, and you can piece together your own courses out of 20 included pieces. The modular track mats are made out of vinyl-treated paper, and they slot together with little paper tabs. That makes them more finicky than Anki Overdrive’s magnetic snap-together tracks, and it takes significantly longer to set up. There are also no sick jumps built into Hot Wheels’ modular tracks.
But unlike Anki’s system, the AAA-powered Hot Wheels cars come with their own AA-powered remote-control units. You don’t use a smartphone app to control the cars, and you can drive them around like traditional RC cars when they’re off the track. They’re a lot bigger than Anki’s cars—as well as traditional Hot Wheels cars—and they have a top speed of 5mph.
The AI in these cars is limited to their ability to read the track in real-time, as well as some digital weaponry you can use to sabotage your opponent. Unlike Anki’s cars, they don’t know competing cars’ positions on the track, but you can launch virtual oil slicks and missiles to disrupt cars in front of you. The system also keeps tracks of each lap as you complete it, and a speaker in each controller barks out your position in the race and your fastest lap times.
There are three driving modes to choose from. The easiest is a no-brainer Beginner mode that keeps your car on the road no matter what, and at snoozy low speeds. Advanced mode involves more user input and higher speeds, and an Expert mode unlocks the cars’ top speeds and forces you to take complete control.
Anki’s system tries to be like a real-world video game, while this Hot Wheels system is more like a pair of easily controlled R/C cars with video-game-like elements thrown in. But the Hot Wheels system may have a longer shelf life thanks to the cars’ standalone R/C skills: The included remotes offer simple left/right thumbstick controls, as well as triggers for forward and reverse.
You’ll also pay less compared to Anki’s Overdrive Starter Kit. For $100, the Hot Wheels AI package includes two cars, 20 pieces of track, and a pair of controllers. It’s slated to launch in October.
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