Amazon’s Zoox tests robotaxi on public road with employees as passengers

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(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) self-driving vehicle unit, Zoox, said on Monday it has successfully tested a robotaxi with employees as passengers on a public road in a move to bring it closer to commercial service for the general public.

The Feb. 11 test, conducted between two Zoox buildings a mile apart at its headquarters in Foster City, California, was part of the launch of a no-cost employee shuttle service that will also help the company refine its technology.

“Putting the vehicle on (an) open public road and validating our approach to all of the different requirements, including regulatory, is a big step and we would not have done it unless internally we were already looking at the line of sight for going commercial,” Chief Executive Aicha Evans told reporters on a conference call.

Evans declined to provide a timeline for the commercial launch, which will need additional government clearances.

The industry’s automated vehicle segment has not rolled out as fast as originally expected as the technology has proven tough to master. Ford Motor Co (F.N) and Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) last fall announced they would shutter their Argo AI self-driving unit and focus on driver-assistance technology that provided more immediate returns.

Companies still pursuing development of this technology include General Motors Co’s (GM.N) Cruise unit and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Waymo.

Zoox’s robotaxi – built as a fully autonomous vehicle from scratch rather than retrofitting existing cars for self-driving – comes without a steering wheel or pedals and has room for four passengers, with two facing each other.

Online retailer Amazon, which has been aggressively expanding into self-driving technology, bought Zoox for $1.3 billion in 2020.

But rapid interest rate hikes and weak consumer demand sparked fears of a global recession, forcing many companies, including automakers and tech giants, to trim their workforces and claw back costs.

Zoox’s tech chief, Jesse Levinson, said the company has been prudent about its growth but was still on track to reach 2,500 employees this year, up from just under 2,000 employees at the beginning of the year.

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