Zoox unveils its self-driving robotaxi paving the way for an Amazon ride-hailing service

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For a car smaller than most sub-compacts, it looks pretty comfortable to ride in

In context: Zoox has been working on a robotaxi since 2014. After an internal squabble that saw CEO and co-founder Tim Kentley-Klay abandon the company in 2018, Amazon swooped in for the rescue. Now the two are hoping to get an autonomous taxi service off the ground with Zoox’s first four-passenger “carriage.”

Robotaxi startup Zoox has finally unveiled its first autonomous vehicle. The driverless car intended to ferry people from point A to point B looks quite similar to Nuro’s delivery van that companies like Kroger, Domino’s, and CVS eventually plan to use for product delivery.

The compact electric buggy has two bench seats facing each other to allow easy conversation between up to four riders. Amenities in the passenger compartment include cup holders, wireless charging mats, and touchscreens on each of the four armrests for controlling music, AC, and GPS. It also features a unique new airbag system designed for the face-to-face seating arrangement.

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Zoox says the robotaxi has a “bi-directional” drivetrain, meaning it can travel just as easily forward or backward. So it never has to turn around unless it needs to do a U-turn. But with four-wheel steering, U-turns or other tight maneuvers are a breeze. It handles driving situations aided by an array of six LIDAR and multiple radar sensors giving it a 270-degree field of view on each corner. The systems are sensitive enough to pick up objects and other vehicles from up to 150 meters away.

Powered by a 133kWh battery, the company claims the taxi can travel up to 75mph. So although Zoox has only tested prototypes on streets in a handful of cities, including San Francisco and Las Vegas, the car does have the potential for freeway driving.

Parent company Amazon entered talks to acquire Zoox back in May of this year and finalized the deal in June. Amazon said at the time that it bought the company to “help bring their vision of autonomous ride-hailing to reality.” Zoox’s first public entry looks well-suited for that course.

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