Zoox plans to roll out a robotaxi service in Las Vegas

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Self-driving startup Zoox is planning to launch a robotaxi service in Las Vegas. The company’s CTO Jesse Levinson made the announcement at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019. Levinson said that the company “plans to test, validate, and refine its technology” in Vegas.

Furthermore, Sin City will serve as an anchor market for Zoox. It’s also the second test city for the company, which has previously conducted testing in San Francisco.

The AV firm shared the news with its Twitter followers earlier this month.

Autonomous Test-Driving Advantages in Las Vegas

Different cities offer unique testing scenarios for Zoox’s fleet of autonomous vehicles. Safely navigating as many potential “real-world” situations as possible is vital for the future widespread rollout of any auto company’s self-driving technology.

On October 9, Zoox posted a simulation video on YouTube that shows the opportunities provided by driving at night in Vegas. “Expanding to a new city provides us with more opportunities to test our AI’s driving capabilities,” the company noted. “The streets of Las Vegas are different from San Francisco and have diverse and unique use cases. One example is more night-time activity.”

A Zoox spokeswoman further emphasized the advantages of expanding its operations in an email interview with Smart Cities Drive.

She said, “The unique nature of Las Vegas makes for an ideal setting to test, validate, and scale our AV technology. Additionally, factors like higher temperatures and road design (i.e., reversible lanes and higher speed limits) help expose our vehicles to new scenarios from which they can learn. For these reasons, testing on Las Vegas roads complements our testing in San Francisco.”

The company reportedly received permission from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles for public testing on state roads in early 2019. Now, Zoox is mapping and test-driving new routes in Las Vegas.

Purpose-Built Vehicle

According to TechCrunch, Zoox’s permit allows the company to transport passengers in Vegas. However, testing won’t include riders just yet. Passenger safety remains a significant concern for all self-driving fleets. Keeping the cost of testing relatively low is also a factor. Therefore, Zoox is performing incremental tests, starting with riderless vehicles.

Specifically, Zoox CEO Aicha Evans said the firm “Is doing strategic testing to keep costs in line.” As such, it has sent five of its modified Toyota Highlander autonomous vehicles to Vegas for testing.

Meanwhile, numerous self-driving automakers continue to flock to Las Vegas to showcase their latest vehicles at CES each year. Since launching operations after CES 2018, both Lyft and Aptiv have completed 50,000 self-driving taxi rides.

Other companies have started autonomous ride-hailing pilots in other cities across the country. For example, Waymo launched a robotaxi program in Phoenix, and Voyage has a new service in Florida.

Ultimately, Zoox plans to expand its time and footprint in Las Vegas. The company will add “a purpose-built self-driving vehicle without traditional controls” to its autonomous fleet.

According to a Bloomberg report from last year, the prototype resembles a “Carlike robot about the size and shape of a Mini Cooper. Or actually, like the rear halves of two Mini Coopers welded together. The interior has no steering wheel or dashboard, just an open space with two bench seats facing each other. The whole mock-up looks like someone could punch a hole through it.”

Zoox reportedly plans to start testing the purpose-built vehicle in 2020. The startup is aiming to launch its autonomous taxi service shortly after those tests begin.