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Zoox unveil quirky fully autonomous unit

Written by Theo Koenig – December 17, 2020

Reviewed by Asaf Kedem

Six months after being acquired by Amazon in a billion-dollar deal, Zoox have launched their much-anticipated fully autonomous electric vehicle. The moment marks a significant landmark for the company that was founded in 2014 on the promise to build fully-autonomous vehicles from scratch. Rather than retrofit existing vehicles, CEO Aicha Evans describes the vehicle as a way of “re-imagining transportation.”

The compact green vehicles were “built for riders, not drivers” and as such, the vehicles feature no steering wheel and no pedals. The level-5 autonomous driving capacity means the vehicle is capable of all driving tasks with zero human interaction required. The carriage-style vehicle is capable of transporting 4 passengers, with the 2 rows of seats arranged to face the center of the vehicle. Powered by electric motors on either side of the vehicle, the Zoox reaches maximum speeds of 75 mph and features four-wheel steering. A remarkable feature is the fact that the vehicle has no front or back- the maximum speed can be attained in either direction. Two battery packs located under the seats allow for 16 hours of drive time on a single charge.

According to Zoox, the vehicle features more than 100 proprietary safety innovations. Self-described “sensor pods” sit atop each corner of the vehicle and are equipped with cameras, lidar and a spinning laser. Further cameras are integrated into the front and of the vehicle. All of this allows Zoox to see over 150m in all directions and maintain constant 360° vision. The new seating arrangement, coupled with the fact that the vehicle is bi-directional, has motivated the company to develop a new airbag deployment system that wraps around each passenger.

The car includes a wireless phone charging pad, as well as integrated tablets to regulate temperature and music, as well as change the route and check on ETA. Zoox have also done away with outward-swinging doors and have opted instead to integrate glass sliding doors.

Long-term, the company aims to become a ride-hailing service company capable of rivaling the likes of Uber and Lyft. Realistically, however, Zoox’s most direct form of competition will come in the form of other acquired start-up firms developing autonomous driving. Waymo, Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving unit, launched its fully autonomous driving service in Phoenix, AZ, while Cruise LLC, backed by General Motors Co. is test driving in San Francisco, CA.

Executives have not elaborated on an official launch date, but only to say that it will not take place in 2021. Currently the vehicles are being produced at a factory in Fremont, California, where it should eventually be possible for Zoox to assemble 10,000 to 15,000 units annually. The current production process focuses on assembly, as most major components such as the drive unit, the battery packs and so on, come pre-assembled.

Auto Trendy’s take:

Zoox have gone beyond simply integrating autonomous driving and created a vehicle that is full of truly innovative features. With most security tests required by U.S. regulators having already been passed, the company will now turn its attention to becoming a ride-hailing company. Zoox will benefit from the fact that they now have the capital required to weather the storm as other autonomous driving companies enter the market. As we said in our previous article, only time will tell whether the autonomous technology will be repurposed for Amazon delivery trucks.

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