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Apple-endorsed racing game Anki Drive revs up with new cars, tracks

April 16, 2014: 3:21 PM ET

Artificial intelligence-driven startup expands its robotics expertise, looks for new ways to expand ecosystem.

Anki is releasing two new race tracks. The course pictured,

Anki is releasing two new race tracks. The course pictured, "Crossroads," offers an intersection.

FORTUNE -- Anki Drive's toy-sized ecosystem just got bigger.

The San Francisco-based startup, which released its artificial intelligence-driven cars last October, unveiled two new tracks and two new cars Wednesday -- the first new hardware of any kind since launch.

Available for $100 starting May 6, Anki's new tracks offer new challenges for racers: "Crossroads" throws in a twist, adding an intersection that players must navigate and avoid crashing into opponents. The other track, dubbed "Bottleneck," features a narrow section that players must squeeze through at high speeds. Meanwhile, two new cars -- a battle aggressive vehicle called Corax and the speed-focused car called Hadio -- will each retail for $70 and go on sale in the coming weeks.

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Anki's new hardware is supported behind the scenes by a free mobile app update that syncs up the cars and a mobile device. "The thing we've always said from the beginning is so much of what we're doing is driven by the software," emphasized Mark Palatucci, Anki's co-founder and the company's chief product officer.

Anki's app, which players use to steer the cars, uses highly sophisticated artificial intelligence developed in-house. It gives each toy car distinct characteristics in terms of speed, steering, and weapons. While the A.I. is smart enough to allow the cars to automatically weave around corners and change competitive racing strategies all on their own, it's really intended to create an accessible experience for human players. (Steering controls are basically boiled down to accelerating and decelerating, steering left and right, and firing weapons.) So a newbie can still go toe-to-toe with more experienced players, or a solo player can still enjoy a race with cars controlled by A.I.

Anki first caught public attention when Tim Cook introduced CEO Boris Sofman and the Anki racing game on stage at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference in June 2013.

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With $50 million in venture-backed funding from such luminaries as Andreessen Horowitz and Two Sigma Ventures, co-founders Sofman, Palatucci, and Hans Tappeiner have been developing ways to refine their A.I. and expand Anki's ecosystem beyond their first product launch last fall, potentially moving beyond games.

Anki Drive is currently on sale in the U.S. at Apple (AAPL) stores, Apple.com, Anki.comand Amazon.com (AMZN). The standard base kit ($199) includes a large race track, two toy-sized cars, and chargers. The companion mobile app runs on iOS devices, including the iPhone 4S and above.

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