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Amazon’s Zoox Trots Out Self-Driving Robotaxi

The startup Zoox — which Amazon acquired in June for a reported $1.2 billion — unveiled a self-driving electric taxi Monday (Dec. 14).

“Revealing our functioning and driving vehicle is an exciting milestone in our company’s history and marks an important step on our journey toward deploying an autonomous ride-hailing service,” said Aicha Evans, Zoox CEO, in a press release. He said that the four-seater robotaxi, built for ride-hailing, is the ideal vehicle given the “alarming statistics around carbon emissions and traffic accidents.”

The Zoox robotaxi is a “fully functional, electric, autonomous vehicle that is designed for dense, urban environments,” the release said. The company said its robotaxi is capable of driving up to 75 miles per hour and can operate continuously for up to 16 hours on a single charge.

The release said that the compact robotaxi “is the only vehicle to offer bidirectional driving capabilities and four-wheel steering, which enables maneuvering through compact spaces and changing directions without the need to reverse.” The vehicle features a “four-seat, face-to-face symmetrical seating.” Passengers face each other.

The Zoox vehicle has no steering wheel. And there’s no space for a driver. This means that safety will, in fact, be a major concern for consumers and regulators.

“Building a vehicle from the ground up has given us the opportunity to reimagine passenger safety,” said Jesse Levinson, Zoox chief technology officer and co-founder. “These include new safety features such as our airbag design, redundant hardware throughout the vehicle” and revamped sensors.

He said that the robotaxi “has passed key … crash tests” under federal regulations. Levinson added that the company will continue “to look for new, innovative ways to protect our riders and others on the road.”

Zoox was founded in 2014 and operates as an independent subsidiary of Amazon based in Foster City, California.

For its part, the U.S. Congress has been looking at how to deal with self-driving cars.

“Manufacturers of autonomous vehicles and semi-autonomous technologies are working to transform the way we travel, and we must ensure that these technologies are rigorously tested and properly deployed with necessary safety oversight and accountability,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone and Subcommittee Chairman Jan Schakowsky.

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