Long before Amazon acquired the self-driving startup Zoox in June, the Bay Area-based company was prototyping its own custom-designed and built self-driving taxi from the ground up. On Monday, it finally publicly showed off the new car.
While still a prototype and with no set dates for the fleet to hit the road, the Zoox electric robotaxi reimagines the entire premise of a car. While many self-driving car companies — like Aurora (also Amazon-backed) and Waymo — are modifying existing vehicles with sensor and computer technology, Zoox has been developing a new idea of what an autonomous vehicle looks like.
Even with Amazon now in charge, Zoox is sticking to its ride-sharing goals. “We’re reinventing personal transportation,” Zoox CEO Aicha Evans said in a Zoom interview after the Monday reveal. “It’s always what we’ve been about.” She did concede that “down the line,” Zoox could play a part in moving packages and other services that Amazon is known for.
But for now, Zoox has a new look for post-COVID-19 taxi service. It starts with removing the steering wheel and the usual driving pedals and seat. Instead of the typical car set-up, it’s a bidirectional vehicle with two benches facing each other. It can carry four passengers, who can interact with the robo-vehicle through a touchscreen and the Zoox smartphone app that riders use to order the vehicle.
With touch controls for music and climate for your seat, each passenger can have their own experience. The ride may be a trip with a group, or you could be mixed in with strangers. Again, this idea is supposed to take off once the pandemic is (hopefully) behind us.
The cars will be serviced at hubs where the dual-battery vehicles will also be wirelessly charged. Zoox says the charge lasts for 16 hours of driving.
The concept is similar to Cruise’s Origin, which was unveiled at the beginning of this year as a driverless, steering wheel-less box for ride-sharing in San Francisco.
Don’t expect to see the Zoox taxis on the road anytime soon. The company is still testing the autonomous technology on modified Toyota vehicles on public roads in Las Vegas, San Francisco, and throughout the Bay Area. But Evans expects to target those same locations once the Zoox robotaxis start taking off.
Instead of “Ubering”somewhere, Zoox wants to become the verb that means to get around, no driver necessary.