As the autonomous driving car cruised the streets heading to Coit Tower in San Francisco, Jesse Levinson could not hide his pride as he spoke from the back seat. “Isn’t that cool, how we slowed down for that person and then nudged around him? See how steep this street is? We cover all the most challenging terrain, said the chief technology officer of self-driving startup Zoox.”
Looking at all the different companies in the Bay Area, which are currently involved in developing robot vehicles, Zoox has proven to be the most secretive. However, it recently disclosed its endeavors to offer free autonomous rides, which will consist of a safety driver, as stipulated by the California law and an engineer who will occupy the navigator’s seat.
According to the company, the rides will be conducted between Moscone Center and Fairmont San Francisco, but only for select attendees drawn from the Global Climate Action Summit.
The aim of the free autonomous rides is to display its vehicles’ agility, particularly in complex urban settings as well as highlight the environmental and social benefits associated with its soon to be unveiled all-electric robot free rides.
Although Zoox was established by two relative unknowns, it is not supported by a leading auto company such as General Motors’ Cruise or even by a foremost technology company like Lyft, Uber, Baidu, Apple or Waymo.
Nevertheless, the company has fundraised about $800 million and boasts a private-market valuation of a staggering $3.2 billion. What’s more, the startup has lured nearly 600 employees and claims to be on the journey to provide a robot taxi service in San Francisco in 2020.
Zoox emerged in 2014 as the creation of Tim Kentley-Klay, an Australian artist-designer, and Levinson. Even though Klay possessed no technology background, he was enthusiastic about autonomous driving vehicles. On the other hand, Levinson was a computer science postdoc at Stanford.
Although the combo of a brainy engineer and brash salesman sounds like another renowned Silicon Valley duo, Levinson shifted the comparison to Apple’s co-founders including Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs by saying, “we haven’t created a trillion-dollar company yet.”
According to Jim McPherson, a Benicia attorney, and new-mobility analyst, the industry sees Zoox as a dark horse in comparison to other companies such as Waymo that are currently on twin tracks of public relations and development in efforts of building confidence.
Even though the demo rides scheduled for this week by Zoox may elicit some attention, the company is not expected to disclose its car design. In fact, the company’s prototype is currently locked in a giant crate at its San Francisco office.
“Don’t feel bad; we haven’t let any other press see it either, only investors get a peek. We figured people might not want to give us hundreds of millions of dollars without seeing what our vehicle looks like,” said Levinson. He added: “we’ve created a new type of vehicle, unlike anything anyone has experienced before.”
Both the back and front are expected to be symmetrical. Also, the car will be in a position to drive in either direction with ease. Furthermore, each wheel will have its motor fitted with cameras and sensors.