It’s been almost six months since Amazon purchased self-driving startup Zoox, and today the company pulled the wraps off its first autonomous vehicle. Rather than automating a standard car built with a human driver in mind, the Zoox robotaxi is built specifically for autonomous driving in in dense urban environments.
For example, its only 3.63 meters long, which gives the robotaxi one of the smallest footprints in the auto industry. It is also built with four-wheel steerings and bi-directional driving — there’s no “front” to speak of. There’s also no steering wheel or the standard bench seating; instead, four passengers face each other inside the compact vehicle, which looks more like a single carriage on a tram rather than a car in the conventional sense. Despite its compact size, Zoox’s robotaxi can reach speeds up to 75 MPH. It’s powered by two individual battery packs that provide about 16 hours of run time before they need to recharge, so a single robotaxi should be able to do a day’s worth of work before it needs a power-up.
The carriage also has some unique safety features to go along with its unconventional design, including an airbag system specially built for its bi-directional design. Zoox says that all four seats get the equivalent of five-star crash safety protection. Meanwhile, the camera, LIDAR and radar system provides a 270-degree field of view from all four corners of the robotaxi, which basically eliminates blind spots.
Zoox says it is already testing its new robotaxis in Las Vegas, San Francisco and Foster City, CA, though it’s not clear if you can actually grab a ride from one yet. According to Bloomberg, the company plans to launch an app-based ride service along the lines of Uber and Lyft, but the company said it wouldn’t have a commercial launch in 2021.