Can Zoox Power Amazon’s EV Mission?
Amazon recently took over Zoox, the company behind the visionary concept of all-electric and driverless ride-sharing vehicles. With the two companies joining forces, we could see a change in how Amazon makes its deliveries – and maybe down the road a significant impact on the future of transportation.
With the deal, which cost Amazon, a reported $1.2 billion, the e-commerce giant positions itself as a major player in the race to get safe autonomous vehicles to the general public. And it could mean increased competition between Amazon and other self-driving vehicle innovators like Waymo, Cruise, and Tesla.
What is Zoox?
When Zoox started up in the Silicon Valley in 2014, it had a unique mission. Company founders Tim Kentley-Klay and Jesse Levinson saw a need for autonomous electric vehicles that could be shared like taxis. And rather than converting existing vehicles to self-drivers, they wanted to build one from the frame up with that specific purpose in mind. Their concept vehicle was sleek and low to the ground with some unique features such as top-mounted cameras that view in 360 degrees and wheels that turn sideways for true parallel parking capabilities.
They’ve had to do a lot of their testing with retrofitted vehicles, though, such as the modified Toyota Highlanders that have been running for a couple of years on the busy and challenging streets of San Francisco and Las Vegas. Though no self-driving cars have yet been available commercially, the company has made some impressive technological breakthroughs that show plenty of promise. For instance, they have videos showing cars making unprotected turns at stoplights, yielding to pedestrians, and safely passing other double-parked vehicles.
Why Does Amazon Need Zoox?
The e-commerce giant spends tens of billions of dollars getting their packages to customers, and much of it is by paying other freight companies to haul them – and usually burning fossil fuels to do it. Amazon has pledged to wean itself off nonrenewable energy sources in the next 10 years and have zero emissions by 2040. The partnership with Zoox could help them fulfill this mission.
While on the surface the move makes it seem like Amazon may be planning to venture into the robo-taxi business at some point, some speculate that the e-commerce giant really has its eyes on Zoox’s expertise and technology to find more cost-effective and environmentally safer ways to move packages, not people. In this sense, it’s simply an investment strategy that will pay off in the long haul, so to speak, with cheaper and more efficient ways to get goods to customers.
Amazon already uses drones and small robots in some places as kind of the last link in the supply chain, particularly in urban areas with what is termed “last mile delivery.” Amazon may be able to take advantage of the innovations that Zoox engineers have worked on for years to improve their drone systems, and another possibility is that Amazon wants to get in on food delivery.
Amazon has also invested big time (to the tune of $700 million) in a company called Rivian, which builds all-electric trucks and SUVs. From its operations in a former Mitsubishi plant in Illinois, Rivian is designing and building 100,000 all-electric delivery vans for Amazon. The first 10,000 are due by the end of 2022 with the 900,000 rolling out before the year 2030.
In addition, Amazon has already been using self-driving tractor-trailer trucks for some deliveries on Interstate 10. These vehicles are manned by backup drivers and safety engineers, and are considered to be invaluable in terms or research and testing.
The Competition is Heating Up
Besides Zoox, other major players in the race to get autonomous vehicles up and running on a major scale include Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise as well as Tesla, which has its own pioneering “Autopilot” technology that uses automated functions for steering, acceleration and braking. The acquisition of Zoox could very well give Amazon a leg up in its competition with these other companies.
Amazon had humble beginnings in 1995 as an online bookstore, and today the Seattle-based company, with sales of over $280 billion last year, has diverse interests in e-commerce, cloud computing, digital streaming, and artificial intelligence. The company’s recent purchase of Zoox is another way that Amazon is diversifying in an ever-changing world.
Though the car of the future isn’t on the roads yet, Amazon’s increased involvement driverless cars might mean that they are closer to our doors – and it’s a safe bet that they will be bringing us something we ordered online.
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