AI News, Meet Zoox, the Robo-Taxi Start-up Taking on Google and Uber

Meet Zoox, the Robo-Taxi Start-up Taking on Google and Uber

What inspires me…is giving back people their lifestyles, so they can do what they want to do: texting, vegging out, drinking.” The Zoox test mule, which is currently being built in a garage in Menlo Park, Calif., is based on an innovative Swedish research vehicle with wheels that can be steered, driven, braked, and cambered independently.

Late last year, Zoox secured seed funding from a major venture capital firm and entered stealth mode to avoid tipping off rivals.

Nevertheless, Spectrum has pieced together the tale of how a designer from Australia with no auto industry experience intends to revolutionize 21st-century transportation, including a first look at the technology Zoox is using to develop its vehicle, the venture-capital firm funding it, and exclusive photos of the car and workshop.

He founded a successful animation studio, a digital media company, and a video production house, and he spent most of the past decade directing television commercials and building his businesses.

“I have in my head a concept design…so extreme it will have philistine giraffes gone wrong like [former Top Gear host] Jeremy Clarkson throwing back shots of Prozac to calm down.” He imagines a Zoox L4 driving across a road to collect passengers without doing a three-point turn, and with airbags on the outside to mitigate crashes before they happen.

The two-seater lacked Kentley-Klay’s design flair, but the concept was extremely similar: an urban Level 4 cab controlled by wire, with no physical driving controls.

While DFJ would not disclose to Spectrum the amount (or even confirm the fact) of its investment in Zoox, the company briefly had a profile on recruitment website AngelList that described itself as “a DFJ-funded robotics startup.” In November 2014, on the company’s Facebook page, Zoox confirmed Levinson’s appointment as chief technology officer.

A major benefit to working on a closed campus is that Zoox does not need to apply for an autonomous vehicle testing permit from the state or abide by the associated restrictions.

Kentley-Klay is characteristically enthusiastic about the workshop, calling it in a press release “the startup garage to end all startup garages.” Publicly accessible visa documents reveal that Zoox also went on a hiring spree, recruiting a director of strategy and a media manager from Australia, as well as roboticists, machine vision experts, and software engineers from the Valley.

For the previous dozen years, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, in Stockholm, had been working with autonomous corner modules, a Volvo idea that packs almost everything needed to drive, steer, and brake an electric car into the car’s wheels.

The 400-kilogram car has battery power for 30 minutes of driving and a top speed of 70 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour).

If Kentley-Klay can stick to a timeline he shared with ReadWriteDrive in 2013, Zoox will be aiming to finish a drivable prototype by the end of next year, adapt it for public roads by 2019, and debut L4 taxis in a sunny city like Las Vegas as early as 2020.

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