Zoox autonomous e-shuttle begins operating on public roads in California
Amazon-owned robotaxi developer Zoox has announced the deployment on open public roads of its purpose-built bi-directional autonomous people mover. Able to carry up to four passengers, the fully self-driving vehicle is being put to work shuttling the company's own employees around Foster City, California.
The electric vehicle has been in development for almost 10 years now, and was designed from the ground up to be an autonomous taxi, so lacks any of the traditional driving controls found in converted cars used by the likes of AutoX and Waymo.
"The founding premise of Zoox was that the best way to advance transportation and increase safety on our roadways was to reimagine the full mobility experience. That means going beyond retrofitting today’s passenger vehicles with autonomous technology," said CTO and co-founder, Jesse Levinson. "It is a feat of design and engineering – and the culmination of years of hard work – to drive a purpose-built vehicle, fully autonomously and without safety drivers. With the ability to operate our vehicle on public roads and the deployment of our employee shuttle service, we’ll continue to refine and improve our technology and operations as we prepare for our commercial service launch."
The first prototype was built and tested in 2015, bi-directional driving was achieved the following year and approval was granted in 2018 for Zoox to transport passenger with a safety driver in California. The permit to shuttle people without a safety driver followed in 2020, and the vehicle was put through its paces on private roads before being granted permission to operate on public roads by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
The robotaxi measures 143 inches (3,630 mm) from fender to fender and stands 76 inches (1,936 mm) tall. It sports four-wheel steering for a turning circle of 27.5 ft (8.5 m), active suspension for a smooth ride, and employs a combination of vision cameras, radars and LiDAR to feed data on its surroundings to an onboard computer system for processing.
Passengers access via sliding doors and get comfortable on face-to-face bench seating, with safety belts, before moving off. The Zoox vehicle is reckoned capable of speed of up to 75 mph (120 km/h) and can motor along for up to 16 hours per charge.
Following the completion of its maiden run on public roads on February 11, the vehicle will now be used to ferry up to four full-time Zoox employees at a time between two buildings a mile apart in Foster City, rolling up to 35 mph (56 km/h) and tackling left and right turns, bi-directional turns and traffic lights, all while taking care to play nice with cyclists, pedestrians, other vehicles and so on.
Lessons learned will inform future improvements to the technology as the company moves to secure the necessary approvals to open services to transport members of the public. The video below has more.