by Jerry ElengicalMay 04, 2021
In the varying “levels” of driverless vehicles and driving automation, Zoox seems to have powered through to become the first company in its industry to showcase a fully operational, driving, and purpose built robotic taxi that is L5 capable, achieving full automation. Zoox combines artificial intelligence, robotics, automobile design and sustainability at its core to transform personal transportation for a safer and cleaner future for everyone. The robotaxi seats four in a face to face symmetrical seating configuration, and has all its amenities designed to suit the rider rather than the driver. In the absence of a traditional steering wheel and a driver, the vehicle allows for the usual bench seating seen in cars to be rearranged to face each other, a move designed to foster communication between fellow commuters. Yet still, the vehicle stays small enough to navigate nimbly through busy streets.
The exciting automobile innovation is bi-directional and comes with a four wheel steering, which enables manoeuvring through compact spaces in a modern urban scenario, without the need for reversing. This is also enabled by a powerful 133 kWh battery, one of the largest available in electric vehicles in the current generation, allowing it to operate for up to 16 hours continuously on a single full charge, and to reach maximum speed of up to 75 miles per hour. All this is packaged in a 3.63 m long body, fender to fender, one of the smallest on-ground footprints in the automotive industry. Its unyielding cuboidal body yields a turning radius of 8.8 m.
Zoox employs a unique and comprehensive sensor architecture comprising cameras, radar, and LIDAR to obtain a 270-degree field of view on all four corners of the vehicle and a 360-degree for the entire vehicle, eliminating typical blind spots and allowing the vehicle to track objects, obstacles and traffic occurrences near it. Its powerful AI system allows Zoox to see up to 150m in all directions and around corners. The proprietary Zoox software is housed within a powerful computer system within the vehicle, courtesy of all the free space afforded in the absence of a driver and related amenities, while the system itself is protected by redundant power backups.
The interiors and amenities for this new vessel of urban mobility are designed to reflect its allegiance to the rider: cup holders, a wireless charging pad and an inbuilt screen to check ETA, travel routes, and locations, or to change music and internal temperature, are all incorporated within each seat. As a testament to rider comfort, Zoox is lined with premium materials, from its upholstery to the floor. As a measure of its responsiveness to other vehicles and passengers on the road, Zoox has an inbuilt sound and light system that essentially tells what it’s going to do next: back up, stop, or accelerate.
Among its host of features, Zoox comes with a safety system that is not only state-of-the-art, but also focuses on equivalent passenger security and mitigation measures for all passengers. Since its bi-directionality essentially does away with the concept of a front and back for the vehicle, equal safety and security impetus must be ensured for all four passengers, regardless of where a suspected crash may happen. In response to that, the vehicle has a novel airbag deployment system that engulfs the rider from three directions as opposed to one in conventional cars: equivalent to a five-star safety rating for all its passengers. According to its designers, Zoox focusses on a pro-active approach as opposed to a reactive one, with its custom AI stack that detects and mitigates potential risks ensuring the safety of not just its passengers, but also nearby pedestrians.
The name “Zoox” is inspired by Zooxanthellae: mobile, algae-like organisms powered by photosynthesis. They thrive in symbiotic relationships with coral, providing an essential source of energy that supports biodiversity in coral reef ecosystems. Zoox exists with nearly the same modus operandi in a rapidly evolving urban scenario at harmony with the environment and its ecosystem. Founded in 2014 with a vision to produce its own network of purpose-built, zero-emissions vehicles designed for autonomous ride-hailing in major cities, along with an end-to-end autonomy software stack, the company was acquired by Amazon in 2020, now operating as an independent subsidiary. Upon deployment in the coming years, Zoox aims to handle the charging, maintenance, and upgrades for its entire fleet of vehicles. The rider, simply pays for the service.