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No pedals, no problem: Zoox begins first robotaxi rides on public roads in California

Autonomous robotaxi developer Zoox has announced two major milestones this month as it inches closer to a full launch to the general public. All without a driver … or pedals … or even a steering wheel. The Amazon subsidiary has shared footage of its Zoox branded robotaxis navigating public roads for the first time in California following an approved testing permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Zoox is an autonomous vehicle developer celebrating nine years since its inception. Following years of development in bringing unique robotaxi technology to public roads, the California-based startup nabbed former Intel chief strategist Aicha Evans as the new Zoox CEO in early 2019.

A year and a half later, the company announced a definitive merger with Amazon in which the online marketplace juggernaut wholly acquired Zoox for an impressive $1.2 billion. With Amazon now in its corner, Zoox could continue its work in developing a completely bespoke EV for the robotaxi market, rather than try and retrofit existing vehivles for autonomy like nearly all of its competitors.

In late 2020, we got our first look at the all-electric, autonomous shuttle and its massive 133 kWh battery pack. Starting in its lab before moving on to loops of simulations and structured testing, Zoox soon began using a fleet of level 3 autonomous vehicles to collect real road data.

The company states those vehicles have tallied over one million autonomous miles through San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Seattle. Last July, Zoox became the first company to self-certify a purpose-built, fully-autonomous, passenger EV with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

Today, Zoox has announced that the same unique robotaxi has now begun delivering rides with employees on public roads in California for the first time ever.

Zoox California
Credit: Zoox

Zoox joins select group with testing permit in California

Last week, Zoox shared that it had been granted an operational testing permit from the California DMV to begin offering robotaxi rides with passengers on public roads. This is a huge step for the company as a whole, especially as a robotaxi developer that has chosen to operate using electric vehicles without any pedals or a steering wheel. Zoox cofounder and CTO Jesse Levinson spoke:

Getting to be the world’s first passenger in a robotaxi with no manual controls on open public roads, along with Aicha this past Saturday, was one of the highlights of my life. But what made me happiest was seeing the beaming smiles on our team members when they completed their rides. I can’t wait for everyone to experience that magic.

As you can tell above, executives from Zoox were some of the first passengers during the robotaxi’s initial public rides in California, but many more are planned to follow. Under the testing permit from the DMV, the robotaxi’s are clear to operate both empty and with Zoox employees as passengers – no civilian rides yet.

Zoox states that beginning this spring, full-time employees will have access to rides in the robotaxi between its Foster City, California, offices during business hours. This will offer those employees a real-world demonstration of their hard work while continuing to collect road data.

Zoox’s next step will be opening the unique robotaxis up to the general public, but the company has not stated a timeline for when those rides may begin. You can see Zoox’s robotaxi operating on public roads in Northern California in the video below.

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Scooter Doll is a writer, designer and tech enthusiast born in Chicago and based on the West Coast. When he’s not offering the latest tech how tos or insights, he’s probably watching Chicago sports.
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