Amazon’s Self-Driving Car Hits Public Roads

Amazon’s fully autonomous electric vehicle | Image by Zoox/Twitter

Zoox, Amazon’s self-driving company, shuttled passengers in its fully autonomous electric vehicle (EV) for the first time on public roads last week.

On February 11, the EV, which does not contain a steering wheel, transported staff in Foster City, California, along the mile-long route between Amazon’s two main buildings, the company said in a press release.

The company described the event as “the first time in history a purpose-built robotaxi — without any manual controls — drove autonomously with passengers.”

Zoox will now operate a shuttle for employees on the same route as it seeks more clearances to offer its services to the public, according to The Detroit News.

The company has held a driverless testing permit since September 2020, The Detroit News reported, which was expanded by California to include its robotaxi.

“Becoming the first company to operate a purpose-built robotaxi with passengers on open public roads in California is a significant milestone in not only Zoox’s journey, but for the autonomous vehicle industry at large,” Aicha Evans, Zoox’s CEO, said in a press release.

“Today, with the announcement of the maiden run of our autonomous employee shuttle, we are adding to the progress this industry has seen over the last year and bringing Zoox one step closer to a commercialized purpose-built robotaxi service for the general public.”

Before the recent test, Zoox’s public road tests had only featured gas-powered cars with sensors that power its self-driving technology, The Detroit News reported.

The company was bought in 2020 by Amazon for an undisclosed sum and is competing with other major manufacturers, including Cruise from General Motors, to win the robotaxi market, which is expected to be a $108 billion market by 2029, according to Fortune Business Insights.

Earlier this month, the California Department of Motor Vehicles approved Cruise to test its Origin shuttle on public roads in the state. However, it has not yet conducted any tests, The Detroit News reported.

“It may well be the first serious purpose-built automated transit vehicle that might actually be able to safely operate on a sufficient number of public streets to affordably deliver high-quality mobility to the many who live in our worst ‘transit deserts’. Personally, I would welcome them to come to New Jersey,” Alain Kornhauser, professor and transportation director at Princeton University, told The Dallas Express. 

Amazon’s version, unveiled in 2020, does not contain controls or pedals and carries four passengers with two inward-facing rows of seats, according to The Detroit News. The Verge described the Zoox vehicle as “toaster-shaped.” It will travel up to 35 mph on its current route.

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