January 18, 2013

Mamma Mia! Real Life Mario Kart Crosses Finish Line Thanks to RFID


Plenty of people out there have already played Mario Kart, and some have even tried to do it in the real world. While most of them have discovered that portabella mushrooms don't improve engine speeds, actual banana peels don't destabilize a go-kart's performance all that much, and it's incredibly difficult--not to mention inhumane--to use a turtle shell as a missile, some have made significant advances in making Mario Kart a reality.

For Texas engineers Ben James and Hunter Smith, a full-size live version of an installment of the Mario Kart series was the goal, and they meant to make it happen. Instead of just dressing up in costumes, they brought the full power of the engineer's art to the table. On James and Smith’s track, which looks a lot like the standard go-kart track, boxes hang from pieces of rope, allowing drivers to collect a power-up in much the same way that it would be done in the game. The power-up items on this track actually have real-world effects, accomplished via radio frequency identification (RFID).

For instance, on this track, the performance of the go-karts is actually dialed down on purpose. When a mushroom power-up is found, servomotors in the go-karts activate and 100 percent of the go-kart's throttle power can be achieved temporarily, providing the real-world speed boost that a mushroom would have provided in game. The RFID systems, meanwhile, can determine where a banana peel has been placed on the track, and activate the car's steering remotely to lock it into a hard turn.

The idea, according to Smith, came from the First Robotics Competition, an event that allows those interested in robotics and engineering in high school to compete in events designed to test their skills and at the same time educate on issues of math and science. College scholarships are even available as prizes in some events, and the experience, some might argue, is valuable enough in its own right.

Video of the real-life Mario Kart shows off the amazing possibilities in the combination of go-karts, servomotors and RFID exists, and it shows just how smoothly and fluidly the whole thing works. It's enough to make some wonder if Nintendo is already on the phone with Waterloo Labs, either to offer them jobs building just this kind of thing worldwide, or to cease and desist. Given that Waterloo Labs has already released its source code and system details--not to mention announced that they would "be happy to help you build your own," it's a safe bet that more of these will start to crop up, unless Nintendo proper gets involved.

The idea of a go-kart experience that's so true to the Mario Kart experience that cannons actual get involved is no doubt tantalizing to gamers everywhere, and with the system details publicly available, many more gamers will likely be looking forward to warmer weather so they can take to the go-kart track backed up with props and RFID tags to make their own Mario Kart experience.




Edited by Rachel Ramsey



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