As Amazon’s Zoox unveils passenger robotaxi, CEO acknowledges potential for package delivery

The newly unveiled Zoox autonomous vehicle will start commercial operations in California and Nevada. The company isn’t yet disclosing the timeline for the commercial rollout.

Zoox, the robotaxi company acquired by Amazon for more than $1 billion earlier this year, revealed its fully autonomous electric ride-sharing vehicle on Monday morning, along with its vision for the future of urban mobility.

Passengers will use an app to hail the vehicle, much as they do with Uber and Lyft today, but with no human driver operating the vehicle.

“We are transforming the rider experience to provide superior mobility-as-a-service for cities,” said Zoox CEO Aicha Evans in a news release announcing the vehicle. “And as we see the alarming statistics around carbon emissions and traffic accidents, it’s more important than ever that we build a sustainable, safe solution that allows riders to get from point A to point B.”

The symmetrical vehicle is bidirectional, operating the same in both directions, with an automated turning system designed to maneuver in and out of tight spots, minimizing three-point turns and U-turns.

It fits up to four people, with sliding doors on both sides. Primarily envisioned for short rides in urban environments, it’s also capable of driving on highways at speeds up to 75 miles per hour.

Zoox L5 Fully Autonomous, all-electric robotaxi at Coit Tower in San Francisco. (Zoox Photo)

Zoox says the vehicle has more than 100 safety innovations, including a novel airbag system and the equivalent of five-star crash safety protections for each seat. Sensor arrays extend from each corner to create a 270-degree field of view, eliminating blind spots.

Interior features include wireless phone charging pads, a moonroof, and built-in screens for checking trip status and playing music.

It was designed from the ground up as a passenger vehicle, which Zoox says gave it advantages over other companies that have retrofitted existing vehicles with autonomous driving technology. However, Evans acknowledged the possibility of working with Amazon on package delivery in the future.

“First, we’re going to move people around. That’s where the demand is. That’s the greatest benefit for society, the cities and everybody involved, meaning the customers, too,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “But yes, I will admit that if we can move people, especially with this footprint, at some point, we could move packages.”

Inside the Zoox robotaxi.

Zoox says commercial robotaxi operations are “coming soon” in San Francisco and Las Vegas but didn’t give a timeline. Evans said in the Bloomberg interview that the commercial launch won’t be next year, but it also won’t take as long as some are speculating in the press and industry circles. She said the service will be “affordable” for passengers, but the company hasn’t yet said how much it will cost.

Here’s the video officially revealing the new vehicle.

Zoox is competing against other tech giants and startups in the race to develop autonomous vehicles. Amazon’s acquisition of Zoox gave the Foster City, Calif., company the financial backing to continue pursuing its robotaxi vision, even as others have struggled to bring similar technology to market. Uber handed over its self-driving car technology to autonomous vehicle company Aurora last week.

Zoox gives further details on its technology and vision in this brochure.

Zoox Vehicle Brochure by GeekWire on Scribd

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