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Zoox Unveils Autonomous Electric Vehicle

Zoox, the self-driving startup recently acquired by Amazon, has unveiled a fully autonomous electric vehicle with no steering wheel. [1]

The vehicle, which Zoox describes as a driverless carriage or robotaxi, can carry four passengers. With a motor at each end, it travels in either direction and is capable of speeds up to 120 km/h (!). The two battery packs are said to hold for 16 hours of run time before recharging. This is not a vehicle you can purchase, instead, Zoox plans to launch an app-based ride-hailing service in cities like San Francisco and Las Vegas. The company also plans to launch ride-hailing services in other countries, with “affordable” rides competitive with services operated by current ride-hailing actors such as Uber and Lyft. 

“This is really about reimagining transportation,” Zoox CEO Aicha Evans said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “Not only do we have the capital required, we have the long-term vision.”

Despite being far from deployment, several vehicles are already being built at a facility in Fremont, Calif. The factory has the capacity to eventually produce 10,000 to 15,000 units annually, executives say. Suppliers send the major components — the drive unit, body, battery pack, and so on — pre-assembled, and Zoox then does final assembly in stages, a process it likens to building a Lego set. Executives declined to reveal the battery supplier.

“Unlike many of the concept cars other companies have shown in the last several years, this vehicle has passed all the FMVSS crash tests,” CTO Jesse Levinson told Bloomberg TV, referring to the tests required by U.S. regulators. The vehicle’s safety features include airbags that form a cocoon around each passenger in the event of a crash, which Zoox says is unlikely given its confidence in the technology. The company can manually operate the vehicles remotely and communicate with passengers in real-time. For those worried about privacy, Zoox says passengers will have the option to blur images captured by the onboard camera. 

When Amazon acquired Zoox, it was speculated that the e-commerce giant eventually planned to deploy fleets of driverless delivery vehicles. In the interview, Evans said there are currently no plans to do so but acknowledged that “at some point, we could move packages.”

 

Personal comment

If what they communicate holds, the vehicle should be less of a concept, and more of a solution ready for a future deployment in a mobility service (sometime after 2021). Addressing the vehicle/hardware (which is usually the center of attention in these presentations), it has the ‘lounge’ form-factor commonly used in AV shuttles. How this aligns with mentions of 120km/h capabilities and completed crash tests I do not know.

Less tangible, but perhaps more interesting, is the current status and capability of the automated driving system. This will ultimately decide when the vehicle and service is ready to be deployed.  It could also be highlighted that other actors in the field (such as Waymo) are busy ‘just’ trying to develop the artificial driver and overall mobility service, leaving vehicle production to incumbent OEMs. Zoox’s vehicle-approach is instead to focus on modules and suppliers of major components before final assembly. This could become more and more viable when we see less diversity (e.g. standard vehicles for use in mobility services) and less complexity (e.g. electric drive trains) of vehicles and components.

Finally, what is perhaps most unconventional about this showcase is that they have yet to provide us with the name of the vehicle (Zoox 1?, Zoggy?, Zoox amazon?).

 

Written by Victor Fabricius, RISE Mobility and Systems

 

Sources

1. 2020-12-14. Amazon’s Zoox Unveils Autonomous Electric Vehicle