Joining a slew of electric transport pods built for autonomous travel in congested areas, such as the Nuro, the LUTZ Pathfinder and Toyota’s e-Palette people mover, is a new robotaxi from Amazon subsidiary Zoox. The fully electric vehicle is designed to navigate urban environments, using bi-directional driving capabilities and a very small footprint to move through tight spaces.
Amazon acquired Zoox earlier this year but the startup had been sharing its vision for an autonomous driving future well before then. Way back in 2013 we looked at the company’s Boz smart chauffeur concept, which was designed for Level 4 autonomy, referring to vehicles that can essentially drive themselves in most scenarios.
This was an ambitious idea from Zoox in 2013 and remains so today, but its eponymous newly unveiled robotaxi isn’t all that different to some of the autonomous pods and shuttles currently undergoing testing. These include the vehicles being used by the Mayo Clinic to collect COVID-19 tests, for example, or the vehicles that have carried students across campus at the University of Michigan.
Targeted at ride-hailing applications, the Zoox robotaxi features four inward-facing seats, no steering wheel and a novel airbag system designed for bi-directional vehicles. The ability to move both forwards and backwards works with the vehicle’s tiny footprint, which measures just 3.63 m (12 ft) long, to enable the vehicle to move through compact spaces.
It is powered by a 133-kWh battery, which the company says allows for 16 hours of continuous operation. A mix of cameras, radar and lidar enable the robotaxi to autonomously navigate its surroundings, while top speed is listed as 75 mph (120 km/h).
“Revealing our functioning and driving vehicle is an exciting milestone in our company’s history and marks an important step on our journey towards deploying an autonomous ride-hailing service,” says Aicha Evans, Zoox Chief Executive Officer. “We are transforming the rider experience to provide superior mobility-as-a-service for cities. 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.”
There is no word on when or where Zoox plans to take its first paying passengers, but the independent Amazon subsidiary is currently carrying out vehicle testing in Las Vegas, San Francisco and Foster City.