Autonomous driving companies are a dime a dozen. Autonomous driving companies bought by Amazon, on the other hand — well, there’s Zoox. It was almost three years ago that Amazon took Zoox in-house. Since then, there’s been some news here and there, but not much. What has been happening at Zoox? That’s been the question.
Whatever’s been happening, there’s been progress, as Zoox is now launching its autonomous robotaxis in California! It trails only a couple of other companies in this robotaxi milestone.
The cute little Zoox robotaxi doesn’t even have a steering wheel. For now, it is strolling some streets of Northern California. The first Zoox robotaxi in public use carried its first passengers just this past weekend.
Zoox actually claims this was “the first time in history a purpose-built autonomous robotaxi without traditional driving controls carried passengers on open public roads.” It’s getting a bit granular or pedantic here to claim a world first on this, since Waymo and Cruise have been providing full robotaxi services for a while now. But it’s true that they have used vehicle models that were originally designed around human drivers. Does that matter? Well, it’s something. The company adds, “To date, Zoox is the only purpose-built robotaxi permitted on California public roads that is self-certified to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Zoox’s ground-up design, which does not include traditional driving controls such as a steering wheel or pedals, incorporated FMVSS performance requirements directly into its vehicle and added more than 100 safety innovations not available in today’s passenger cars.”
The next step for Zoox is that it is operating its robotaxis for employee shuttle service between its two core office buildings in Forster City, California. The autonomous employee shuttles can make left or right turns and respond to traffic lights as well as pedestrians and bicyclists. However, they cannot go beyond 35 mph (56 km/h). If all goes well with this employee service, Zoox will in time open up robotaxi shuttle service to the general public. This is all in accordance with the process delineated in the California DMV permit allowing Zoox to operate autonomous shuttle vehicles.
I’ll let one of the cofounders of Zoox have the final word on their development to date and this latest accomplishment. “The founding premise of Zoox was that the best way to advance transportation and increase safety on our roadways was to reimagine the full mobility experience. That means going beyond retrofitting today’s passenger vehicles with autonomous technology,” said Zoox cofounder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Jesse Levinson. “It is a feat of design and engineering – and the culmination of years of hard work – to drive a purpose-built vehicle, fully autonomously and without safety drivers. With the ability to operate our vehicle on public roads and the deployment of our employee shuttle service, we’ll continue to refine and improve our technology and operations as we prepare for our commercial service launch.”
All images courtesy of Zoox.
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