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Apple-highlighted iOS toy Anki Drive gains new cars, tracks & race mode

Anki Drive, a lineup of iOS-compatible intelligent toy race cars which were originally exclusive at retail to Apple Stores, expanded on Wednesday with new cars, tracks, and an entirely new race mode.

Existing Anki Drive owners will be able to upgrade their cars with new artificial intelligence programming, making the robotic vehicles smarter than ever. The update also adds a new Race Mode to play sessions, allowing the first driver who reaches 15, 30 or 45 laps to win.

The new features can be accessed by updating the official Anki Drive app available in the iOS App Store. Version 2.2.0 features the new race game type, a "boost" support item for all cars, improved in-game setup, an in-game scoreboard and various bug fixes.

Two new tracks are also now a part of the Anki Drive collection, with Crossroads placing an intersection in the middle of the road designed as a sort of figure-eight, while Bottleneck sees the track narrow at certain points, allowing less space for the vehicles. Both tracks can be bought for $99 each, and preorders are available now.

Finally, the Anki Drive family has also gained two new vehicles: Corax, billed as the "ultimate warrior" with multiple weapon mount options, and Hadion, a "built for speed" vehicle that comes equipped with "Turbo Boost." Each vehicle runs $69.

While the new cars and tracks are available at Anki's website, the company said the products will also be available at "select retail stores" in the coming weeks, likely to include both Apple retail stores as well as Amazon. When they launched last fall, the products were initially exclusive to Apple's own retail stores for a limited window.

Apple was so impressed by Anki Drive that the company chose to showcase the product at last year's Worldwide Developers Conference. The company ran a demo that showed four tiny remotely controlled cars each communicating with an iOS device over Bluetooth Low Energy to drive around a miniature track.

The product eventually went on sale to the public last October at Apple's retail stores with a starter kit priced at $199.

What makes the toy set interesting is the autonomy of each car. With the AI handling steering, players can take control of the gas and fire imaginary guns, as well as special weapons like a tractor beam, at other racers. Shooting bullets and other weaponry is limited to a car's line-of-sight, while effects are played out as if in a video game.

For example, if one player is trailing and strikes a critical hit on the car ahead of it, lights will flash and the toy will come to a halt or slow down as if disabled. On the iOS device, sound effects play and the handset vibrates in reaction to the strike. A point system grants players power ups and access to special abilities that can be used in future races.