If ever there was a case of a demo sealing the deal, then this was it. From the moment we saw Anki Drive cars racing around their track, our minds were made up. Those hundreds of hours I’d spent as a kid, battling electric-powered cars against my friends came flooding back. The Anki team -- who are set to ignite an explosive new category of entertainment experiences, paving the way for a consumer robotics revolution -- had killed it. We were hooked. The deal was all but done.
We’d just witnessed the first game that truly mashes-up robotics and artificial intelligence with the sort of full-throttle mass appeal entertainment, which cuts across ages. Here was a game consisting of physical tracks and cars, which you buy and race, which are, in turn, controlled by iOS devices, whether that’s an iPod Touch or iPhone. Through sensors, cameras and sophisticated algorithms, the cars are aware of their position, relative to the others on the track, and are navigated, at very high speed, by your device. It happens to be pretty much the coolest game I’ve ever seen.
From King to Supercell to Mind Candy and Playfish, Index has a history of investing in entertainment and gaming companies. Another theme we’ve invested in is connected devices -- sometimes called the Internet of Things. Multi-zone digital music system manufacturer Sonos is a great example of a business in which we’ve invested in that space. You don’t tend to purchase just one Sonos component. Once you’ve bought into the platform, you snap up more of them -- and each time you do, the whole system improves.
Similarly, Anki Drive is far more than just a game. Rather it’s a gaming platform, which blurs the boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds, as players add cars and capabilities, over time.
From our point of view, partnering with the Anki team -- a phenomenal group of Carnegie Mellon robotics PhDs, who are working closely with Apple -- represents the merging of two of Index’s standout themes. But there’s another dimension to this too.
We believe we’re nearing a moment, where kids owning their own electronics and computer capabilities will become the norm. They are already fast-becoming a powerful demographic with -- let’s face it -- significant purchasing power of their own, as evidenced by the success of Moshi Monsters, both on the Internet, and through the physical merchandise they sell in stores.
We also see it with Anki, where the devices controlling the cars are overwhelmingly going to be in kids’ hands (although we fully expect the game to appeal to kids of all ages). Previously, those devices were geared towards an adult demographic -- but, in our opinion, that’s set to change; Anki could help create the moment when the smart device market finally expands rapidly to kids.
What’s more, the kids’ entertainment market hasn’t been disrupted for a very long time. The games they play and the toys they play with are, for the most part, essentially the same as the ones kids have played with for the last 20-40 years. That’s what’s most exciting about Anki: they are leveraging technology to create an entirely new form of experiential entertainment, which could never have happened before robotics and connected devices were ready to become part of the fabric of our daily lives. Nor could it have been done before tablets, and other devices, had reached a tipping point, where they had acquired the requisite computing power to talk to physical objects.
And yet, because it’s not all digital, there’s a ‘retro’, back-to-the-future feel to Anki Drive too. The physical goods -- the cars and track -- are collectable items and at a time when most parents complain that their kids spend far too many hours staring at screens, it’s a physical game, which is played with friends, that simultaneously uses technology to ramp up the sensory and visual experience.
But above all, we’re investing in Anki, because we were blown away with the team. Here is a group of brilliant roboticists, steeped in their field, who are using their expertise to create -- we believe -- mass consumer robotics. To date, there have been few robotics discoveries with mainstream appeal. In the main, the sector has been geared towards specialist markets, such as surgery, manufacturing and defense.
The Anki team can change all that. They can take robotics out of the lab and put them in our homes; in our daily lives. Anki Drive represents first base in a sweeping robotics revolution, which will leave few industries untouched. That explosive demo was merely a first glimpse of their vision. Just imagine what they’ll create in the years to come.