Anki brings ‘Fast & Furious’ branding to its Overdrive line of smart toy cars

Before its adorable little robot Cozmo arrived on the scene, Anki was in the business of making smart toy cars. The hardware startup’s robotic race car line Overdrive is getting a pretty high profile promotional boost in the form one of the most profitable franchises in film history. In September, the company will be launching Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition, a racing kit based on the film series.

The deal echoes the serendipitous team up between Disney and Sphero that brought the world the wildly popular BB-8 toy — though the Fast & Furious franchise doesn’t have quite the same sort of all-ages appeal as a Star Wars. Nor does it have the longstanding merchandising cache. That’s more of a byproduct of later films as the series jump the proverbial shark (or submarine), moving from car racing heist film to all-out action cartoon.

The notable tonal shift of the films does, perhaps, put them in line with the higher end of Anki’s tween and younger teen demographic. More to the point for Anki, however, it presents an opportunity for the line to have its highest profile platform since it made an early stage debut at an Apple event. It’s also an undeniable bit of synergy for a company that makes racing cars.

Co-founder Hanns Tappeiner tells me that the company has been searching for a good franchising team up for Overdrive. And certainly this marks a different approach than the one it took for Cozmo when it hired a number of Dreamworks and Pixar animators to concoct an original (albeit Wall-E-esque) story for its toy robot. It also thinks that the films are a solid match for its demographic.

“For younger players, Fast & Furious is an aspirational brand,” Tappeiner says. “It is one of the most successful and enduring action franchises of all time, and one that has amassed a huge following globally. We see this partnership as an opportunity to introduce Anki Overdrive to a whole new audience of racing enthusiasts.”

The kits will ship with two cars, based on vehicles driven in the film by Vin Diesel and the Rock. And like Sphero before it, the offering borrows plot points from its cinematic inspiration, utilizing aspects of the film to build games around the storyline.

The kit goes up for pre-order May 16, priced at $170, a bit of a premium over the standard two-car starter kit’s $150 price point. All of the pieces are compatible with existing Overdrive cars and tracks, though the fastest and furiousest experience requires the new free Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition app.

The timing’s not ideal, with the set arriving a full sixth months after the most recent film hit theaters, a fact the company says is due to its own production schedule. Though, given that the series just issued its eighth film since 2001, there should be a new movie just over the horizon. And the beauty of a software driven toy like Overdrive is that it’s always an update away from the next sequel.