Zoox, a self driving startup owned by Amazon, has unveiled a fully autonomous electric vehicle with no steering wheel that can drive day and night on a single charge.
Bloomberg said the vehicle, which Zoox describes as a driverless carriage or robotaxi, can carry as many as four passengers. With a motor at each end, it travels in either direction and has a top speed of 75 miles per hour. Two battery packs, one under each row of seats, generate enough power for 16 hours of run time before recharging, the company said. To commercialise the technology, Zoox plans to launch an app based ride hailing service in US cities like San Francisco and Las Vegas.
"This is really about re-imagining transportation," Zoox CEO Aicha Evans said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "Not only do we have the capital required, we have the long-term vision."
The company also plans to launch ride hailing services in other countries, Evans said.
Amazon acquired Zoox in June.
Zoox builds vehicles at a facility in Fremont, California, Bloomberg said. The factory has the capacity to eventually produce 10,000 to 15,000 units annually, executives told the news agency. Suppliers send the major components pre-assembled and Zoox then does final assembly in stages, a process it likens to building a Lego set. Executives declined to reveal the battery supplier.
Zoox has been working on an autonomous passenger vehicle since its founding in 2014. At times it was "ridiculed" for what it was trying to do, chief technology officer Jesse Levinson told Bloomberg TV.
"Unlike many of the concept cars other companies have shown in the last several years this vehicle has passed all the FMVSS crash tests," Levinson said.
Bloomberg said each corner of the Zoox vehicle has a "sensor pod" housING a spinning laser sensor and other lidars and as well as cameras to help it navigate. A pair of front-facing cameras sit on top of the vehicle, with other less visible sensors mounted on the sides. Each corner pod has a 270-degree field of vision, enabling the car to see more than 360 degrees of terrain at once.
Safety features include airbags that form a cocoon around each passenger in the event of a crash, which Zoox said unlikely given its confidence in the technology. The company can manually operate the vehicles remotely and communicate with passengers in real time. For those worried about privacy, Zoox says passengers will have the option to blur images captured by the onboard camera.
Evans told Bloomberg there were currently no plans to operate delivery services but acknowledged that "at some point we could move packages".