‘Zoox’ may sound like the villain from a straight-to-VHS Toy Story ripoff, but it’s actually a six-year-old self-driving startup purchased by Amazon in June. They’ve just revealed the prototype of a FSD bi-directional electric taxi, with no steering wheel and a huge battery life.
The vehicle is a mint-green box with large protruding tyres, and looks a bit like a child’s drawing of a car. You’d be forgiven for mistaking it for the Citroen Ami, another not-quite-car that’s looking to change the face of shared transport:
But in a video released on Monday, CEO Aicha Evans and CTO Jesse Levinson demonstrated using their app to hail a prototype Zoox taxi and go for a ride around San Francisco, showcasing their confidence in the vehicle’s autonomous driving.
Zoox’s taxi features a motor at each end and four-wheel steering, meaning it can travel in either direction, at a maximum of 75 mph. ‘Sensor pods’ on each corner have a 270-degree field of vision. At a mini 3.63m long, the interior is maxed out to allow four passengers seated face-to-face, reminiscent of a train carriage. The battery pack is a massive 133 kWh, which will allow it to drive day and night, for up to 16 hours on a single charge.
The company has focused on highlighting safety, stating that the Zoox taxi has “over 100 safety innovations not featured in conventional cars”, including an airbag that envelops passengers from all sides. And if needs be, Zoox can take manual control remotely, communicating with passengers in real time. You’ll also have the option to blur images captured by the on-board camera, if privacy is a concern.
Zoox is far from the first to promise fully self-driving taxis in the near future, but as we’ve covered, the gap between aspiration and reality seems to be prolonging delays. “Autonomous driving is hard, because you have to get hundreds, if not thousands, of things right at the very same time. But if you do all that, it actually feels pretty easy,” says Levinson in the video voiceover. Hmm. Profound?
Currently, the company hasn’t specified when the taxis are going into operation, except that it wouldn’t be as soon as 2021. There’s no confirmed price point as of yet, but it’s described as “affordable”, pitched to compete with Uber and the like. The vehicles are currently being tested in various US cities, so provided that Zoox’s safety promises hold true, it could soon be possible to hail a ride home from a night out without subjecting an unamused driver to your drunken singing.