Amazon subsidiary Zoox to begin driverless robotaxi tests in California

Amazon negotiating acquisition of automated vehicle firm Zoox.
Image: YouTube | ZOOX

Amazon subsidiary Zoox has secured approval to begin testing its autonomous cars on California’s public streets without a safety driver. Previously, only Alphabet’s Waymo, AutoX Technologies, and Nuro had permission to conduct smart vehicle tests without a human operator in the Golden State.

In June, Amazon spent a rumored $1 billion to acquire the self-driving automobile service provider.

Zoox to Test Driverless Cars on California Roads

Although Zoox’s ability to deploy its robotaxis without drivers in California is a big deal, it comes with several qualifications.

For starters, the company can only deploy two autonomous vehicles without operators at the helm. It is limited to testing its smart cars in Northern California’s San Mateo County. The firm must also obey a strict 45 mile-per-hour speed limit and cannot test its automobiles during adverse weather conditions.

Nevertheless, the six-year-old firm will doubtlessly gain invaluable data thanks to its new freedom. After all, self-driving car companies are focused on achieving full vehicle autonomy, not building a highly reactive cruise control system.

By placing its robotaxis in real-world conditions, Zoox will garner much more in-depth information on its platform’s strengths and weaknesses. That data will enable the firm to refine its technology and edge closer to developing completely self-directed automobiles.

World-Changing Potential

Although not as established as competitors like Uber or Tesla, Zoox has had some notable successes since its founding in 2014.

By 2016, the firm secured $500 million in outside capital to pursue the dream of full vehicle autonomy. Zoox also won approval to test its cars with operators in San Francisco in 2018. One year later, it secured another $200 million cash injection and expanded its testing program to Las Vegas. In addition, the company had one of its automobiles navigate San Francisco’s freeway system for about an hour without operator intervention.

That is not to say Zoox has had a completely frictionless existence.

The company’s board of directors suddenly terminated its chief executive last August. Moreover, the startup significantly pared back its operations and laid off 120 contracted staffers because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite those hurdles, the efficacy of the brand’s artificial intelligence self-driving car platform attracted the attention of Amazon.

Although the Seattle-based corporation does not offer personal transportation service, it did spend $37.9 billion delivering goods to customers last year. Financial services firm Morgan Stanley believes Amazon’s annual shipping costs will hit $90 billion soon. But if the e-commerce company secured a self-driving vehicle solution, it could significantly reduce its logistics expenses.

Given its track record, Zoox could be the answer to one of Amazon’s biggest problems. Though it never became a unicorn startup, it did hit several major development milestones. Also, the firm’s technology convinced California officials that its smart cars are not a danger to locals.

With a trillion-dollar parent corporation backing its work, the former startup could be the company to crack the autonomy problem.


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