July 4, 2023
Zoox’s self-driving taxi has started testing on public roads in Las Vegas.
The deployment marks the first time a fully driverless, purpose-built, self-driving taxi has operated autonomously on public roads in Nevada and is being backed by the local Department of Motor Vehicles.
According to the Amazon-owned company, it constitutes a major step on the road toward a commercial launch.
Initially, at least, the route on which the Zoox autonomous vehicle (AV) will operate is a modest one – a relatively short one-mile loop around the neighborhood where the firm’s Las Vegas office is located. But this will be expanded over the coming months.
The AV, known as the VH6, can transport four people – Zoox employees – at speeds of up to 35 mph. The VH6 has no steering wheel or pedals and delivers its automated functionality via cameras, radars and lidar sensors, which provide 360-degree coverage and visibility of up to 492 feet. Bidirectional driving and four-wheel steering add to its versatility.
The looped route was deliberately chosen to provide as comprehensive a challenge as possible for the VH6. The AV will have to negotiate several unprotected turns and multi-way stops and take in busy roads populated by cyclists, pedestrians and cars. It has not yet been confirmed how many Zoox AVs will be involved in the on-road tests.
This is a similar formula to what we saw from Zoox earlier this year when the VH6 embarked on its first tests on public roads in California. Again, a one-mile route close to its headquarters in Foster City was identified, and employees were ferried around on short journeys at speeds of up to 35 mph.
However, Zoox does have experience in Las Vegas to lean on. The company first arrived in the city in 2019 with a test fleet of Toyota Highlanders, which have spent the time since mapping the area and gathering data on its driving conditions. These have operated autonomously with safety drivers on board, in preparation for the launch of the self-driving taxi tests.
In 2020, the company opened an office and depot in the city, and it now says it is ready to “massively expand” operations there, adding 190,000 square feet of warehouse space for its vehicles and also growing its workforce. Ultimately, it aims to deliver a service that will cover tech support, rider backup and maintenance of the AVs.
“Deploying our robotaxi on open public roads in California and now Nevada is a big step for Zoox,” said Jesse Levinson, Zoox’s co-founder and CTO. “Driving autonomously in these two unique but equally challenging locations will provide us with invaluable learnings as we fine-tune our technology in preparation for commercial launch.”
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