Zoox, Amazon’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary, announced on Tuesday, July 19 that it is preparing to launch its robotaxi business. The pedal-and-steering vehicles they manufacture have complied with US federal regulations and applied for permission to test them in California.
“We really invested the extra time and resources into building vehicles that didn’t require exceptions and then basically allowed us to control our own destiny and also use our vehicles at scale,” said Jesse Levison, co-founder and chief technology officer of Zoox. , told Reuters.
The Zoox vehicle, called the VH6, has room for four passengers, with two facing each other. This passenger layout looks like Startup Cruise’s Origin vehicle launched in January 2020. Cruise is controlled by General Motors Co.
The VH6 is manufactured at Zoox’s “Kato” plant in Fremont, California, the city where Tesla also builds its cars. Levinson said the plant has produced dozens of VH6s and the current location could produce tens of thousands of vehicles.
Today, Zoox has reached a critical milestone in our journey to launch our robotaxi on public roads: becoming the first company to self-certify a purpose-built, fully autonomous, all-electric passenger vehicle to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. https://t.co/MqtE1YRYOv. pic.twitter.com/iZ4grpr9UP
He said the current economic slowdown had not affected the company and that Zoox would increase its workforce to 2,000 this year from 1,400 at the start of the year. Levison also said for now the company is focused on moving people, not packages, which is much more profitable.
“We can compete with, for example, Uber and Lyft and make money and be very cost-competitive even in the early days of this technology,” he said.
Most self-driving technology companies with vehicles without a steering wheel or pedals have filed an “exception” application with the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Levinson said Zoox chose to self-certify according to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. They acknowledge that this is the higher standard that makes Zoox responsible for vehicle safety.
NHTSA exceptions usually limit the number of vehicles that can be produced as well as the production period.
Cruise applied for an NHTSA exemption this year. A source close to the company said Cruise views the method as more responsible and gives regulators a clearer view of the technology.
Meanwhile Nuro, a self-driving startup backed by SoftBank, said it anticipates next-generation vehicles to “comply with all applicable federal standards at the time of deployment”. Current R2 vehicles without pedals, steering wheel and inside space are for package only, manufactured with the exception of NHTSA.