With no steering wheel, Zoox steers towards the testing phase.
Remember Zoox? The Amazon-owned autonomous driving firm that sounds more like a Willy Wonka candy than a car company? You'll be seeing a lot more of them. On Tuesday, it said it was gearing up to launch its robotaxi business, the driving prototype pictured below. The company has self-certified that its vehicle will meet all US federal regulations, now it's applying for a permit in California to test drive it.
"We really invested the extra time and resources to build a vehicle that doesn't require exemptions and then that basically lets us control our own destiny and also deploy our vehicles at scale," Jesse Levinson, Zoox's co-founder and CTO said to Reuters.
The design of the taxi itself, which Zoox calls the VH6, hasn't changed much since we covered the car in 2020. It has room for four passengers and no steering wheel. It is, of course, fully electric as well. The passengers sit as they would in a limousine or on a bus, facing each other. If you ask us, it looks an awful lot like GM's Cruise self-driving taxi car. A common skateboard layout typical of EVs will do that.
The VH6 also shares a home with another autonomous electric vehicle company. Tesla produces its Model 3 and others in Fremont, California. As of now, Levinson says that the company has made dozens of cars. However, production capacity is far beyond that, with the Fremont factory capable of producing tens of thousands of taxis.
Levinson also told Reuters that the economy hasn't affected the company. Instead, Zoox will continue to grow, adding another 600 employees this year. That brings the headcount to 2,000 bodies. Levinson is hopeful about the company's expansion. "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.
Circling back to the self-certification for a moment. Vehicles like the VH6 can often apply for an exemption with the NHTSA for their Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Zoox, however, did not, and self-certification means a much higher bar when it comes to the self-driving vehicle's safety.