By on December 15, 2020

Zoox, Amazon’s self-driving vehicle startup purchased over the summer, revealed a prototype robotaxi on Monday. The urban EV adheres to the familiar shuttle philosophy that has brought boxy mobility solutions to numerous towns around the globe. While these pilot programs have had mixed success at best, corporations see them as part of an on-demand future where everything is available by app.

Designed and manufactured in the United States, the Zoox vehicle is purpose-built for autonomy and offers bidirectional driving capabilities and four-wheel steering. However, we would be lying if we said the concept seemed terribly different from the earlier prototypes offered by May Mobility, Jaguar Land Rover, and over a dozen other companies that may not fit quite as neatly into the startup or legacy automaker pigeon holes.

But Zoox’s pod is supposed to be better, more capable, and ready to service customers in a densely packed urban environment. And there’s reason to believe some of the hype. For example, the robotaxi has been equipped with a quite large 133-kWh battery. That’s gigantic (in 2020) for a car that seats four and is roughly the size of a subcompact sedan. Despite the vehicle’s 5,400-pound curb weight, that should make it capable of running errands all day if it’s not racking up too many highway miles.

Though it could. Zoox said its robotaxi would be capable of cruising autonomously at 75 mph without a driver. It doesn’t even have the physical controls to make that necessary, which would be a marvel if the company had any intention of selling it to prove that it works. Instead, Zoox is planning on operating its own ride-hailing service to complement public transportation in cities. We’ve seen this happen before, often with help from government grants intent on promoting green technologies.

They typically work out well in the beginning and often provides the town with favorable news coverage. But locals frequently bemoan these types of transportation solutions after it becomes clear that their supplemental nature has been confused with superfluousness. Many shuttle or ride-sharing initiatives simply never amass the kind of ridership necessary to warrant their continued existence. We’ve also seen autonomous initiates stalled by inclement weather or a minor mishap.

Zooxs thinks it can do better by providing a higher level of autonomous competency and a battery that can last for 16 straight hours.

“Revealing our functioning and driving vehicle is an exciting milestone in our company’s history and marks an important step on our journey towards deploying an autonomous ride-hailing service,” said Aicha Evans, Zoox CEO Aicha Evans. “We are transforming the rider experience to provide superior mobility-as-a-service for cities. And as we see the alarming statistics around carbon emissions and traffic accidents, it’s more important than ever that we build a sustainable, safe solution that allows riders to get from point A to point B.”

We’re not too keen on the everything-as-a-service concept corporations are floating but we’re curious to monitor how Zoox’s pod shapes up. The manufacturer is promising fairly impressive capabilities and we can see it having some urban delivery applications, which is undoubtedly great news for Amazon. Unfortunately, we’re now required to be overwhelmingly skeptical until we’ve seen it in action. Any company can throw a set of sliding doors on a cube with tires and call it a groundbreaking autonomous vehicle these days. And too many have already for us to trust that Zoox has really broken new ground. Without serious road time, this is just another unproven mobility box.

[Image: Zoox]

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15 Comments on “Zoox Shows Off Robotaxi Prototype...”

  • avatar

    How will they compete with Tesla’s million robotaxis that launch Jan 1?

  • avatar
    Rick Astley

    If this works half as well as the Echo Dots and other connected devices in our house, I’ll be better off just driving drunk.

    No doubt everything that happens inside their vehicles will be completely private, except for being recorded and sold for a profit.

  • avatar

    Traveling face-to-face with strangers would be complete hell.

  • avatar

    “ready to service customers in a densely packed urban environment”

    Yeah isn’t everyone fleeing those in droves?

  • avatar

    Haven’t a number of US cities tried these only to abandon them after a couple of years because no one used them?

    • 0 avatar

      Indianapolis had a deal called BlueIndy but they were electric rental cars made in France that were scattered around the downtown area like Bird and Lime scooters…no autonomy at all. The ones that were still operable wound up going to California, most wound up in a local junkyard after 4 years of operation.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Posky

        Linden LEAP also seemed to go nowhere fast and I don’t know what happened to May Mobility. Last I heard they were spending the summer trying to get services back up and running in the U.S. and were looking at partnerships in Japan.

        I love to bash these kinds of initiatives as failures but a lot of the time they appear to be short-term programs intended to test the waters with no real exit strategy. Cities suddenly find themselves without federal backing one day and have no way of maintaining these types of services, regardless of how good/bad things went.

  • avatar

    They’ll need to add thicker windows and a cowcatcher at both ends if the intention is really to provide a “safe solution” for transit in a “densely-packed urban environment.” Some armor plating would also be a plus.

  • avatar

    Was one of the goals of the prototype design to make a vehicle that maximized ugliness by any chance ?

  • avatar

    Hey, Westjet grade seats! People with bony bums can ride in agony! Don’t like your co-riders? Kick ’em in the shins and cough on them! Track in ice and snow to your heart’s content through those big sliding doors! Which then get magically stuck just slightly ajar! Leave your cares to Auto Chauffeur Plus, secure in the knowledge that after years of trying and billions down the drain, not a single autonomous driving program works properly or has a hope of working all day long!

    Welcome to Total Modern Inconvenience! You earned it.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Junk like this only reinforces my position to own just small blocks and tools.

  • avatar

    Q: Why aren’t more vehicles painted Robin Egg Blue?

    A: First picture.

  • avatar

    Gad Zoox.

    There; I said it, and said it all.

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