Since it's in the business of just about everything else, Amazon is now its next step in the autonomous vehicle game. On Monday, the company's self-driving vehicle company Zoox deployed its first robotaxi for limited testing. The early results appear to be something unlike anything seen on public roads.
The Seussically named Zoox noted to CNBC that tests began shortly after receiving approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. They're mainly for Amazon employees in the area, as the robotaxi shuttles them across a one-mile public route between buildings along Amazon's Foster City headquarters. The CNBC report estimates there are fewer than 100 robotaxis currently in place.
The Zoox driverless vehicle looks boasts a blue outer shell with a four-seated interior, but it's what's on the inside that's more relevant. It has no steering wheel or pedals and, instead, relies on bidirectional driving capabilities and four-wheel steering for sudden direction changes. The wheels can shift directions so quickly that there's no need for a reverse function or for multi-point turns. Even without a steering wheel or other manual controls, Zoox is insistent that the vehicles meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and will eventually be suitable for use in public roads. Back in March 2022, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a ruling that would allow companies like Zoox to put together vehicles without steering wheels or manual controls, such as this one.
"If the vehicle is in a situation where it needs help because either 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's called a 'fusion center,' with trained guidance operators monitoring the output of the scene and then will give guidance to the vehicle and either give it permission to do something — but the vehicle is still in charge and does all the driving — or drop breadcrumbs on alternative trajectory, or in the worst-case scenario pull over," Zoox CEO Aicha Evans said during a call to CNBC and other reporters.
The Zoox driverless vehicle is expected to compete with other autonomous transports, such as General Motors' Cruise Origin and whatever Tesla CEO Elon Musk has in mind. It is arguably the company's biggest achievement to date since its inception in 2014 and since its acquisition from Amazon in 2020. We'll continue to monitor this story as it develops, so keep it on Shacknews for any updates.