Anki co-founder Hanns Tappeiner explains the origins of the robotics company responsible for toy/video game hybird Anki Drive and Anki Overdrive.

DIARY OF AN INVENTOR: Hanns Tappeiner and Anki

My co-founders and I met in grad school, the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. At its core, Anki is a robotics company but there is a very specific reason why we went into this intersection of toys and video games.

We looked at the toy industry and looked at how toys were 30 years ago and how they are today. Even though they are much better now, a lot of the play patterns still seemed to be similar to what they were 30 years ago.

Compare that to the video games industry. That industry has been really good at making use of new technology every time the new tech was available, like processing power, graphics, the Internet and mobile devices. It felt like we weren’t seeing that in the toy industry.

At the same time, the toy industry is bigger than the video game industry today. So we felt that we could use robotics and AI to get some of the things we loved about video games off of the screen and into real physical products.

We’re huge toy fans. I can’t count the number of drones and building sets we have. But at the same time we’re really big video game fans so we felt that by using the right tech, we could get the things we love about games into a physical thing. That’s where the idea for Anki came from.

We got phenomenal responses from anyone we spoke to in the toy industry about Anki Drive. Everyone was excited about it because it was so different and new. We had to learn a lot about the toy industry because we all came from a tech background and we needed to make sure we knew how things worked in this industry.

I think the hardest thing to figure out for us was why we liked a product. Because when you come from a tech background it’s hard to know whether we liked it because the tech inside of it was cool, or because the tech made it a better product. Distinguishing between the two is really hard.

What worked out well for us was finding the right people to work with who tell us ‘you like this because you’re a geek, but people won’t care.’ So then, we’d axe those features. It took us a long time to figure that out.

There are tonnes of examples of tech toys that aren’t successful, and it’s nobody’s fault, it just comes from people getting excited about the technology, rather than getting excited about the product.

Check out Anki’s latest creation, Anki Overdrive, here.

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