Zoox, an autonomous vehicle startup owned by Amazon has started testing its self-driving robotaxi on public roads in California. The company was granted a permit to do so last week by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Unlike other autonomous robotaxi permits granted to the likes of Waymo and Cruise, the Zoox autonomous vehicles are not only without a driver, they also have no steering wheel or pedals.
Without manual controls the EV is bi-directional, meaning it has no “front end” and can travel in either direction without reversing. The unique looking EV has only been approved to operate on a one-mile public road in Foster City, a road which connects two Zoox office buildings. Testing it also limited to employees for now, the first of which were some executives who got to take a ride in the Zoox robotaxi over the weekend.
Last week, the @CA_DMV granted our permit to operate our robotaxi autonomously on public roads. This weekend, we hit the road! It marked the first time in history that a purpose-built robotaxi—with no manual controls—drove autonomously on open public roads https://t.co/EzkpDKOK7G… https://t.co/Th0lHRL5uD pic.twitter.com/8merkrp5VE
— Zoox (@zoox) February 13, 2023
Over the coming months Zoox says it will expand testing to all of its employees allowing them to travel between offices during business hours. If the trials are successful Zoox aims to expand beyond their limited test area and begin offering rides to the public, but there is currently no timeline for when that might happen.
Without manual controls you might be wondering how Zoox will handle situations where the autonomous EV comes across a situation that would typically require intervention from a human safety driver. According to CEO Aicha Evans the company will operate a “fusion center” where employees will be monitoring the vehicle in real time and “will give guidance to the vehicle” on what do next. This could be either to continue on its planned path, suggest a new route, or have the car pull over entirely. (via CNBC)
Interestingly the company will not call these scenarios where the fusion center employees have to intervene as disengagements, meaning they won’t have to report them to the state.