The vertiginous streets of San Francisco got nothing on Seattle's placid drivers
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Zoox Takes to the Streets of Seattle

10/22/2021

Amazon’s recent acquisition is learning from our hometown’s placid drivers

Of course Amazon has a self-driving vehicle company in its portfolio. And of course said vehicles are going to take a nice, polite whooping from Seattle’s drivers as Zoox robotaxis begin to hit the pavement in the PNW this month.

The AI that powers Zoox’s custom-built Toyota Highlanders has been trained in Las Vegas and the Bay Area for four years, but we’re confident that our city’s extra-nice drivers will teach the autonomous vehicles how to stop for absent-minded skateboarders and take the lead ahead of hyper-vigilant motorists. Fortunately, a driver will sit in each robotaxi in case it needs to take control.

It may be years before these self-driving cars are shuttling us to dinner dates and dropping off packages on our doorsteps (on our schedule, when we’re home). But if projections are to be believed, those days are coming. The global autonomous vehicle market is projected to exceed half a billion dollars by 2026, achieving a compound annual growth rate of nearly 40%. Amazon is hopeful that Zoox, which it acquired last summer for more than $1 billion, will tap into that growth.

Zoox was founded in 2014 by Australian designer Tim Kentley-Klay and Stanford University’s self-driving car program lead, Dr. Jesse Levinson. The latter had worked with Sebastian Thrun, director of Google’s self-driving program. Together they reimagined road transport, with seats that face each other so we can socialize while commuting and fully-electric cars that look the same from the front as from the back so as to make parts easy to replace. And now that those cars are taking to the streets of Seattle, we think they’ll be needing those parts until the AI gets up to speed.

At present, humans spend some $5 trillion a year on ground transportation globally, not to mention hours a day commuting (back when that was a thing). Most futurists envision a world where we can regain some transit time, working or socializing while our robotaxi carts us from A to B.

“Zoox is working to imagine, invent, and design a world-class autonomous ride-hailing experience,” said Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s CEO of global consumer, in a statement. “Like Amazon, Zoox is passionate about innovation and about its customers, and we’re excited to help the talented Zoox team to bring their vision to reality in the years ahead.”