Amazons Zoox robotic taxi now drives employees on public roads

Amazon’s Zoox robotic taxi now drives employees on public roads in California

Amazon’s self-driving company Zoox unveiled its autonomous robotaxi on Monday.


Amazon-owned autonomous vehicle company Zoox said Monday it is now testing its self-driving robotic taxis on public roads in California with passengers on board.

The vehicles have no steering wheel or pedals, and they have bi-directional driving capabilities and four-wheel steering that allows them to change direction without having to reverse.

Zoox executives said the company began testing after receiving approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicles last week.

The permit does not apply to all public roads in the state. Testing is currently limited to transporting Zoox employees at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour on a one-mile public route between two office buildings at the company’s headquarters in Foster City, California. The company hasn’t said the size of its test fleet, but executives have said they’ve built “dozens” of vehicles, albeit fewer than 100.

Zoox said one of its vehicles completed a test run with employees on board over the weekend.

Amazon acquired the 9-year-old startup in 2020, and at the time gave few details about how it planned to use the company’s technology. Zoox introduced its custom-built electric robotaxi in 2020, aiming to provide on-demand autonomous transport in urban environments.

When called with reporters, Zoox executives declined to say when the company will launch a commercial robotaxi service or open trials beyond the limited route and employee attendees. It will continue to test the vehicle with employees and expects to launch an employee shuttle service this spring.

GM’s driverless unit, Cruise, has also developed an autonomous shuttle called Origin that has no manual controls. Alphabet’s Cruise and Waymo were approved last year to launch their driverless taxi services in California and charge passengers for the rides.

Unlike Cruise, Zoox says its driverless vehicles — which don’t have a steering wheel or other manual controls — meet federal motor vehicle safety standards, and so the company isn’t seeking to phase out their use on public roads.

All companies that test their vehicles on public roads in the state of California are required to report any time their system is disabled or when a human driver is required to take over the autonomous system while driving, usually due to safety concerns or software issues.

Zoox doesn’t even label these incidents as pullouts, but as instances where the vehicle needs assistance or guidance, and therefore doesn’t report them to the state.

“When the vehicle is in a situation where it needs help, either because it needs to do something it’s not normally allowed to do, or because it doesn’t know how to handle a situation, we have what we call a ‘fusion center’ Trained control technicians monitor the output of the scene and then provide guidance to the vehicle, either giving it permission to do something – but the vehicle is still in charge and taking over the entire ride – or drop breadcrumbs on an alternate trajectory, or worst Case-case scenarios are rolling by,” Zoox CEO Aicha Evans told reporters.

— CNBC’s Lora Kolodny contributed to this article.

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