Secret car from Amazon


New car from Zoox with 4 seats and symmetrical design

Startup Zoox (a company founded by Australian designer and robotics from Stanford) has finally unveiled its new project, which, according to the company, will not only be the car of the future, but also a conceptually new vehicle.

Most companies working on self-driving cars (either private or robotic taxis) have focused their efforts on solving the difficult task of creating a safe and reliable software system for self-driving and its adaptation to existing vehicles. Zoox decided to build a car from scratch. The company feels that this approach will allow them to do everything right and provide it with prospects in the transport market of the future.

In the news stream, one could find leaked photos and their discussion… The official launch took place on December 14, 2020. The design of the vehicle reminds me of other robotic vehicles designed for group travel. Among the characteristic features are a somewhat square (or rather, trapezoidal) shape with a high roof, sliding doors and a low floor for ease of entry / exit, as well as seating places with the possibility of comfortable communication (people look at them at each other). I call this form “robetia” (robotic trapezoid). It is also found in most of the personal transport and shuttle models – ULTra at Heathrow, Navya, Easymile, Olli and more recently Cruise Origin.


Car interior from Zoox. Durable seat materials, airbags on all sides, charging stations and of course cup holders.

However, the main features of the vehicle from Zoox are not in the form, but in the design elements:

  1. The car is completely symmetrical, has no front or rear and can move in any direction. All components are duplicated (including motors and sensors).
  2. The roof and sensor mounts are designed to give the sensors maximum visibility. There are 2 lidars (from Hesai and Velodyne) in each corner of the vehicle: one looks outward, the other downward to provide maximum visibility without blind spots.Also, there are 3 cameras in each corner, two more cameras from above and 5 radars in each corner …
  3. Lidars operate at a distance of 150 meters with a wavelength of 905 nm – not enough for driving at full speed on the highway, but enough for city driving.
  4. The vehicle is equipped with a 4-wheel independent suspension under computer control, which ensures a smooth ride.
  5. Passengers face each other, which allows them to communicate comfortably
  6. The interior is decorated in a Spartan style – there are no overcomplicated dashboards from modern cars and robotic taxis. The cabin only has a small display and charging ports. The seats combine the features important to taxis (ease of cleaning and wear resistance) and fit the overall design of the vehicle.
  7. The design of the vehicle provides a low center of gravity and, in combination with the wheels offset to the corners, free up space for the passenger compartment.
  8. Each wheel can be turned independently for a turning radius of 8.6 meters. In many cases, the car does not even need to turn to change direction, it can just go the other way.
  9. The Zoox vehicle is narrow and short enough to easily navigate the streets and carriageways that wider vehicles have problems with.
  10. Airbags are integrated into the seats and the bulkheads between them for added safety. Zoox claims that they originally designed the seats with safety in mind, rather than trying to add safety features to the classic cabin / seat design. As a result, all seating positions are fully protected (unlike most cars, which focus on the front seats).
  11. Zoox says their vehicle has passed all of the crash tests included in the Federal Vehicle Safety Standards. Most self-driving cars today cannot pass some of these tests, although standards will change. In addition, since Zoox will not supply its vehicles to other companies with robotaxi fleets, the company may avoid regulations on vehicles sold or be subject to exemptions from standards (most robotaxi companies rely on this).
  12. Although the Zoox vehicle is designed for city travel, it can reach speeds of up to 120 km per hour on motorways.
  13. Computers and various electronics are powered by 133 kWh batteries located under the seats – enough for a full day of car operation.
  14. Zoox’s self-driving technology stack is map-based (like most large companies except Tesla) with neural network-based object recognition and prediction systems. Before taking to the streets, the company creates HD maps of the region.
  15. The operations center allows support staff to remotely resolve vehicle decision-making problems (like most large companies …). People won’t be driving cars remotely.


Zoox front / back (looks the same on both sides) with sensor kit

Zoox is passionate about working on robotaxi. Customers will not own this vehicle – they will be able to call it like Uber and in certain cases will be able to organize ridesharing. Also these cars will be well suited for groups traveling together. Here you can see that Zoox has very little to say about their plans apart from the tests in Las Vegas and San Francisco – the company believes that they are ideal for robotic taxis.

Problems Zoox will face

While most teams strive to be creative when working on a robotaxi vehicle, many shy away from the extra effort – including design, production and scaling. Tesla is developing its solutions in this area based on its own cars – they look like ordinary ones, but the controls can be easily removed from them to install a seamless seat in the place where the driver was sitting. Cruise, as part of GM, was able to use the company’s resources to create Origin, a rude competitor to Zoox’s car. Some details about Origin are known – in particular, that it is not just a concept, but a vehicle that is being prepared for production.

The tasks that Zoox needed to solve turned out to be so serious that by the beginning of 2020 the startup ran out of money – at a very inopportune moment. The company decided to sell itself to Amazon at a price just above recent estimates. On the other hand, Amazon is a well-to-do parent who can help deal with problems like GM or Waymo (Waymo created a car to experiment with, but the company is currently preparing a fleet and adapting existing car models).


Seat details, mix of transit and car design, minimalism with small screen

In many cases, the original car design from Zoox will be able to offer passengers a pleasure to travel. The question is: how significant are these advantages and will they be enough to outweigh in a few years, when competing companies appear? Will the Zoox benefits be a welcome addition or an industry standard, and will competitors be able to introduce any mandatory components before the battle begins in this market?

We also do not know how correct Zoox bets are. So, for example, some passengers do not like to go backwards, and some do not. Perhaps these preferences can be taken into account when landing, but what if the car changes direction? Will these cars be used only for solo and group trips, or will they also be filled with unfamiliar passengers who may not want to constantly look each other in the eyes?

Competition is still far away. Only Waymo organizes public rides in robotic taxis without drivers – and only in a limited region, and to expand it, the company returned test drivers. Within a few years, companies will be able to expand in cities where there are no other companies – and will not have competition. We will only see a confrontation between two companies when the two companies come face to face in the same city (probably in San Francisco).

Will the pleasantness of the trip stand out from other competitive factors? Will the comfort or features of the vehicle allow to increase the cost of travel and not lose in demand? Competitors will not stand still. They will all refine and improve their solutions, and adapt prices and services to gain an advantage. In the early years, they will be prepared to lose all their money (like Uber is in order to basically exist). All companies know that they have to win, because at some point the robotaxi concept will convince people that it is not necessary to own even one car, which means that all the cars of the winning company will replace the automotive industry – and this is a huge prize.

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You will have the opportunity to develop software of different levels, test, launch it into production and see in action the finished automotive products that you had a hand in creating.

The company has organized a special testing center, which makes it possible to conduct research in the field of ICE control, including in a car. The testing laboratory includes motor boxes, drum stands, temperature and climate control units, vibration stand, salt mist chamber, X-ray unit and other specialized equipment.

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