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Amazon's Zoox launches robotaxi testing in Austin and Miami

The race to bring self-driving taxi services to market is heating up, with Amazon subsidiary Zoox becoming the latest to expand its testing grounds. The autonomous vehicle company has officially launched public road operations in Austin, Texas and Miami, Florida – marking its fourth and fifth cities where it is putting its robotaxi technology through its paces.



While Zoox may trail behind front-runners like Waymo and Cruise, the new city deployments represent steady progress as it prepares for an eventual commercial service rollout initially targeted for Las Vegas and San Francisco. By methodically adding new testing domains, Zoox can expose its self-driving AI systems to a wider range of real-world driving scenarios and conditions.

"Austin and Miami offer unique opportunities that will provide valuable insights to refine our technology as we work towards a safe, sustainable mobility service," said Rone Thaniel, Zoox's senior director of policy and regulatory affairs. "We're laying the foundations city-by-city to ensure our purpose-built robotaxis can navigate each new operational area seamlessly."

The Foster City, California-based company plans to first conduct mapping routes and infrastructure analysis in each city before deploying its retrofitted Toyota Highlander test vehicles in select areas near business districts. Trained safety drivers will initially be behind the wheel as Zoox "learns" the cities' roads and traffic patterns.

However, unlike competitors like Cruise that are already offering limited driverless ride services, Zoox has taken a markedly different approach – it is singularly focused on launching an autonomous ride-hailing fleet comprised entirely of custom-built, driverless vehicles with no steering wheels or manual controls whatsoever.

"Zoox's strategy is to bypass retrofitting consumer cars and go straight to deploying a purpose-built robotaxi from the ground up," explained Zoox spokeperson Brandon Hao. "No steering wheels, no pedals – just an AI driving system and electric vehicle optimized for ride-hailing."

This ambitious goal of putting full self-driving shuttles on public roads is what necessitates Zoox's extensive real-world testing regimen across multiple cities. Hao notes that Austin's traffic hanging lights and rail crossings along with Miami's diagonally-suspended intersection signals present valuable edge cases to train the AI on.

Additionally, each new city allows Zoox to evaluate its robotaxis' performance in varied terrain, road systems, driving behavior and even climate conditions like Austin's thunderstorms. The company says it will follow a careful, stepped approach of first testing designated routes before gradually expanding its geolocated service areas as the self-driving skills improve.

"Robotaxis have to be able to safely navigate essentially any driving situation before we can remove the human backup," said Thaniel. "Ensuring our AI is prepared for everything from high noon traffic jams to late night festivities in each city's entertainment districts is critical before launching commercial operations."

While an exact public service debut date remains uncertain, Zoox remains laser-focused on getting its driverless ride-hailing dream across the finish line. And as it checks off more urban testing environments, that reality is inching ever closer to picking up passengers.

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