Amazon Expands Autonomous Vehicle Test to Seattle

Autonomous vehicles from Amazon’s Zoox subsidiary will soon be roaming the rainy streets of Seattle.

The e-commerce giant, which acquired autonomous vehicle startup Zoox at a reported cost of more than $ 1.2 billion in June 2020, will bring the Zoox vehicle testing to Seattle. Zoox has been testing its L3 autonomous vehicle prototype in Las Vegas and the San Francisco Bay Area for over four years.

Testing in Seattle will expose the vehicle and its artificial intelligence technology to a new set of environmental conditions, including different weather and infrastructure, different regulations and a “different driving culture,” Amazon said. The experience will help iterate the system’s hardware and software, ultimately expanding Zoox’s capabilities. Additionally, the vehicle test expansion will give Amazon the ability to create geo fences and maps specific to the Seattle area, including road features such as cycle lanes, speed limits and traffic lights.

“A calm sea never makes a skilled sailor, and it’s exactly the same principle for our technology,” said Kai Wang, director of prediction at Zoox, in a corporate blog post on Amazon. “The challenges of the Seattle area will allow us to refine our software stack and ultimately improve the behavior of our vehicles.

Zoox L3 vehicles consist of Toyota Highlanders with all-wheel drive, fitted with its latest software stack and fitted with a safety driver to take control if needed. Zoox’s vehicle sensors work together to create an image of their vehicle’s surroundings. Amazon intends to test these sensors under a variety of conditions to highlight specific areas to aid in further development of the systems.

Since Amazon acquired Zoox, the company has also moved forward with the pilot project of a fully functional, electric and autonomous vehicle, designed for dense urban environments. In December 2020, Zoox unveiled the new robotaxi, which is capable of running at up to 75 miles per hour and will compete directly with automated transport vehicles from companies such as Waymo (owned by Google) and Uber.

And Amazon’s Zoox isn’t the only player in the automated delivery vehicle space. In April 2021, the parcel delivery giant FedEx has entered into a multi-year, multi-phase agreement to test a Nuro autonomous delivery vehicle as part of its operations. In addition, reretailers, including Walmart, Domino’s Pizza, Mexican Grill Chipotle, and CVS have all tested Nuro autonomous delivery vehicles.

Zoox plans to open an office in the Seattle area in 2022. It will be Zoox’s fourth base and test site, after San Francisco, Las Vegas and its original headquarters in Foster City, California. Las Vegas and San Francisco are still the focus of the company’s focus for the launch. Amazon says it won’t launch Zoox until it is certain the vehicle is “significantly” safer than human driving.

“We are delighted to be testing in Seattle. The data we collect will be invaluable for the continued development of our AI stack, ”said Jesse Levinson, CTO and co-founder of Zoox, in the post.

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