If you’ve not hear about the wildly hot new tech toy Anki DRIVE, it’s the brain-child of oh, just a few Carnegie Mellon scientists who combined  robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and slot car racing to create an entirely new breed of toy. Sound pretty awesome? Well, it is.I’ve had my eye on it since it first came out, and have been anxious to do an Anki Drive review (or is it test drive?) of my very own. Along with my very eager 7 and 12 year-olds (and yes, my husband), I put this video game meets real live racetrack to the test and here’s what we found out.

When we opened the box, we found a large roll-out mat for the track and two race cars to get you started. The set up is super easy and my own  kids had it up and running in about five minutes even without help from me. And if you’re wondering, the mat can simply be wiped down with water if it gets dirty which is a major plus in my mind as a parent.

You’ll also need to download the free iOS app which allows you to control the cars–and that means you need at least one iOS device per player (and no, a free iPad Mini does not come included in the box).

Anki DRIVE review | Cool Mom Tech

Anki DRIVE starter kit | Cool Mom Tech

The cars and equipment are slick and sturdy, and look like something out of a movie. I even love the case for the cars, which serves as both a carrying case and a charging station. So smart. The cars themselves have different attributes, with some built for speed and others sporting particular weaponry, James Bond style, to give you an advantage over your fellow racers.

As you get started racing (either solo or with friends), you will instantly see the robotics and machine learning taking over. Even though the racetrack is on a flat plastic mat, the cars “know” it is there and navigate the course without major steering from the iOS device. That means fewer cars flying off the tracks and fewer frustrated kids. You can also adjust the difficulty levels for kids (or parents) just figuring it all out.

What’s different about Anki DRIVE from any other game I’ve seen is that the cars actually learn how to compete better; my son when playing solo was handily winning early on, but then as the other cars got smarter, he was forced to get better too.

That kind of change and increasing challenge is fantastic to combat toy boredom and keep this from being a toy you play once then toss in a closet somewhere.

Anki Drive BottleneckTrack | cool mom tech

Anki DRIVE upgrades | Cool Mom Tech

I really appreciate that there’s strategy involved in winning. Rather than just making it across the finish line first, you need to accrue points which come from using your weapons against other cars. You can then use those points to upgrade (or sell) features that boost weapons, armor and speed.

If you hadn’t guessed already, this is not a budget game. The starter kit with the racetrack mat and two cars is $199.99, with additional cars starting at $69.99, all of which is a considerable upgrade from a few diecast cars and a plastic race track. It will also cost you another $99 for expansion tracks, like the Bottleneck, shown above. However it all feels fairly comparable to video game systems that also get you on controllers, multiple games and other upgrades.

For those of you looking for a special gift or a splurge, or even a game that the whole family can enjoy together (Father’s Day, hint hint, says my husband) Anki DRIVE definitely gets my vote.

Purchase Anki DRIVE on the  Anki DRIVE website online or in person at Apple Stores nationwide. It requires iOS7 and works on your iDevice including iPad 3gen, iPhone 4 or higher, iPad Mini and iPod Touch. It is native to iPad, but iPhone works best. Thanks to Anki Drive for providing Cool Mom Tech with a unit to try.