(CNN) — Amazon’s Zoox driverless transportation company has started testing its robotaxi on open public roads — with employees on board, for now.
The company said Monday that it conducted an initial run of its shuttle service for workers at its headquarters in Foster City, California on February 11, a key step in its efforts to make autonomous vehicles widely available.
“With the announcement of the maiden run of our autonomous employee shuttle, we are adding to the progress this industry has seen over the last year and bringing Zoox one step closer to a commercialized purpose-built robotaxi service for the general public,” Zoox CEO Aicha Evans said in a statement.
Full-time employees will now be able to travel in the self-driving taxi on the route between Zoox’s two main office buildings. The vehicle can carry as many as four people at a time and drive at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
The startup said its robotaxi — which underwent “rigorous” testing on private roads and has received necessary approvals from the California Department of Motor Vehicles — can handle left- and right-hand turns, traffic lights, pedestrians, vehicles and other potential obstacles on the journey.
Zoox, which was founded in 2014 and purchased by Amazon in 2020, is unique in its approach to designing electric self-driving vehicles.
Most autonomous cars under development resemble those currently on the road. But Zoox has ditched the steering wheel and brake pedal, claiming those features are unnecessary when there’s no human driver. Seats are designed to face each other to facilitate conversation between passengers.
Google, General Motors and other tech and transportation companies have poured billions of dollars into self-driving vehicles for more than a decade with the promise that they would deliver improved safety and convenience for riders. Yet some evangelists have abandoned their efforts in recent months, with high costs and elusive profits becoming harder to stomach as the economy slows.
In October, Ford and Volkswagen, two of the world’s largest automakers, shut down joint efforts to develop self-driving taxis through a venture called Argo AI.
Ford CEO Jim Farley said at the time that he’s still “optimistic” about a future for fully self-driving cars, “but profitable, fully autonomous vehicles at scale are a long way off.” The company wouldn’t necessarily have to create the technology itself, he added.
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