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Is Driverless Drop-Off the New Frontier?

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Jan. 14 , 2021—With companies deploying autonomous vehicles for delivery purposes, Zoox is taking the road less traveled, creating an autonomous vehicle designed completely for its passengers. 

The autonomous vehicle company recently released details into the design and deployment of its toaster-esque passenger vehicle, which is already in its driverless testing phase. During a recent webinar hosted by Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, Zoox CEO Aicha Evans and Chief Safety Innovations Officer Mark Rosekind explained the methodologies that guide Zoox’s progress and what cities can do to prepare for autonomous passenger vehicles. 

How it Works

Evans said accessing Zoox’s vehicles will be no different than traditional shared mobility services. 

Customers will request a ride via an app, then once the vehicle approaches, customers will be notified via notification. One unique feature noted by Rosekind is that Zoox’s vehicles will not start until each passenger has put on their seatbelt, in order to reduce crashes and improve safety. 

Once a passenger has been safely dropped off at their destination, Evans said a new passenger will already be awaiting pickup. Evans said this is a more efficient way of moving people around cities, rather than leaving vehicles unattended for up to eight hours at a time, while their drivers are at work. 

 

Steps for cities hoping to welcome autonomous passenger vehicles:


 

  1. Get educated. 

Rosekind said the first step is to get educated about the technology powering the vehicles and also the extent of the vehicle’s capabilities. 

“It should be a collaboration,” Rosekind said, “Cities should think about what they need.” 

  1. Create a task force. 

Rosekind recommended gathering a group of diverse individuals who “can come together to discuss how the city could benefit [from autonomous passenger vehicles].” 

  1. Develop a strategic plan. 

With the help of a task force, Rosekind said the final thing cities can do to prepare is sit down and develop a plan for deployment and infrastructure to ensure the passenger vehicles “compliment public transit vehicles rather than compete.” 

 

Vehicle Design 

Zoox’s autonomous vehicle is built “entirely for its passengers,” said Evans. Smaller than a compact car, Zoox’s autonomous vehicle seats four passengers at a time. The carriage-style seats face each other and come fully equipped with screens displaying the vehicle’s route and expected drop-off times. 

Evans noted that the seats also have their own charging stations complete with music options and air conditioning. 

The bi-directional, all-electric passenger vehicle runs off of a 133 kWh battery and dual motors that enable four-wheel turning. 

Evans said, while riding in the vehicle, “if you think about driving, then we have failed.” 

Deployment Challenges

Currently, Zoox is still in the testing phases, deploying passenger-less autonomous vehicles in California. Evans said the next expansion will include large cities like Las Vegas, and as an added challenge, the city of San Francisco. 

“San Francisco is important to us because it is a particularly tough driving environment,” she said, noting its narrow streets, steep hills, and sharp curves. But road conditions are only half the battle, Rosekind warned. 

Eventually, Zoox aims to operate day and night in cities across the world. But first, a plethora of testing must be done in all weather conditions, from snow to ice to fog, Rosekind said.  

 

Image: Zoox

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