Concept vehicles are works of art in the auto industry — and often not more than that. They are often particularly fanciful if they are supposed to be autonomous robotaxis. But when Amazon rolls out a robotaxi concept, it’s quite a different matter.
Technically, the news comes from Zoox, which was working on this long before Amazon came along. However, Amazon bought Zoox earlier this year and its might adds an enormous amount of weight, not to mention its potential use of these robotaxis and the certainty that the company is also working to develop autonomous delivery vehicles.
Nameless Zoox Robotaxi
The new robotaxi concept is cute (adorable even), looks practical, and looks a bit like other robotaxis concepts we’ve seen over the years — reminding us that there are some pretty agreed upon design elements to a good robotaxi. Additionally, Zoox highlights that it has “100 proprietary safety innovations.” Additionally, it’s “fully functional” and electric (of course).
“Zoox is the first in the industry to showcase a driving, purpose-built robotaxi capable of operating up to 75 miles per hour,” the company notes.
Also, while the robotaxi may have a similar look to other concepts we’ve seen over the years, it also has several unique features that are brilliant and exciting. Here are more details, with the parts that I find especially titillating in bold:
“Designed and manufactured in the U.S., Zoox is the only vehicle to offer bidirectional driving capabilities and four-wheel steering, which enables maneuvering through compact spaces and changing directions without the need to reverse. At 3.63m long, the vehicle has one of the smallest footprints in the automotive industry. The vehicle features a four-seat, face-to-face symmetrical seating configuration that eliminates the steering wheel and bench seating seen in conventional car designs. The vehicle also features a 133 kWh battery, one of the largest available in electric vehicles today, allowing it to operate for up to 16 continuous hours on a single charge.
I would say that I expected no less from Amazon and Zoox, but, actually, I’m pleasantly surprised by some of these leading features, and I love the design of the vehicle overall — more than I would have expected. The outside is very cute and friendly (important for robotaxis), while the inside is extremely functional (like a good train seat) while also offering an air of luxury, class, comfort, and futurism (like a good train seat).
Who is Zoox? What is Zoox? Why is Zoox?
It’s also cool to see Zoox focusing strongly on safety (reminiscent of Tesla).
“Safety is the foundation of everything we do. Building a vehicle from the ground up has given us the opportunity to reimagine passenger safety, shifting from reactive to proactive measures,” said Jesse Levinson, Zoox Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder. “These include new safety features such as our airbag design, redundant hardware throughout the vehicle, a unique sensor architecture, and a custom AI stack that detects and mitigates potential risks. Our vehicle has passed key FMVSS crash tests, and we are continuing to look for new, innovative ways to protect our riders and others on the road.”
When Amazon bought Zoox, I wrote a long piece on who the young company is. I recommend reading that full piece. However, it’s also often interesting to see how a company describes itself in a short snapshot summary, so here’s the way Zoox tried to package a gazillion lines of code, machine learning, and vehicle design into one short paragraph:
“Zoox was founded in 2014 with a vision of purpose-built, zero-emissions vehicles designed for autonomous ride-hailing, along with an end-to-end autonomy software stack. The company was acquired by Amazon in 2020, and operates as an independent subsidiary. Zoox is currently testing in Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Foster City.”
Who Will Lead on the Robotaxi Rollouts of the 2020s?
It’s funny to use the term “2020s” for the coming decade in this way, in part because I think of all the references to the 1920s that I’ve read or heard — how far we’ve come technologically in 100 years!
As I wrote a few years ago for a contest about the future, I think one of the defining cleantech developments of this decade will indeed be robotaxis. With each month bringing new announcements in this sector, and much anticipating of what may come our way, I wonder if we are getting a clearer vision of what and who will lead, or if we’re still far away from high-volume, large-scale commercial rollout of robotaxis. Unless I’m drinking too much Robotaxi-Aid, though, this past month seems to have presented three major announcements that open the doors to legitimate change and a new era of mobility:
- California approved the option to launch robotaxi services and collect money for them. (We’re yet to see which company gets approval for such services and gets off the line first.)
- Cruise began rolling out fully self-driving vehicles this month — in San Francisco.
- This new robotaxi from Amazon/Zoox.
Of course, Tesla is also rapidly developing its Full Self-Driving (FSD) firmware, and I am eagerly (sometimes impatiently) awaiting the latest beta version of that to test and improve in my Tesla Model 3, but I’ll wait until this high-quality FSD suite is activated across much of the fleet to add that to the list. Once I’ve watched my car drive itself to Target, Best Buy, Whole Foods, or my daughter’s school (or at least the nearby Starbucks), and videos are overflowing social media of other Tesla owners doing the same, I will officially give Tesla FSD the rubber stamp and make it #4 on this list (unless one more highly notable milestone pops into my news feed first).
All of that said, as the subheading notes, we don’t really know who is going to lead on robotaxis in the 2020s. If paid to do so, I could make arguments for any of these companies (not to mention Waymo) and feel confident in my argument. Each has its own set of pros and cons. In actuality, I do think there will be an industry of complementary robotaxi services. I do not think this is going to be a monopoly.
I also have one final thought about what is to come: It’s gonna be a lot of fun to watch!
All images courtesy Zoox. Check out the website for videos.
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