Self-driving startup Zoox announced it is testing its fleet of autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas. It’s the second test city for the five-year-old company, which has been testing its self-driving cars exclusively in San Francisco and the surrounding communities.
Zoox, which is based in the Silicon Valley town of Foster City, Calif., will start by testing its vehicles on Las Vegas roads, with the goal of ultimately launching an autonomous taxi service there. The company received permission from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles for public testing in early 2019.
Driving in diverse environments is seen as a crucial element in preparing autonomous vehicles for wider-scale launch. Zoox says that Las Vegas offers “an opportunity to extend learning in a second dense urban environment; one that has diverse and unique use cases compared to driving in San Francisco. For example, Las Vegas provides interesting scenarios for our vehicles to encounter, like reversible lanes, complex pick-up and drop-off zones, high temperatures and more night-time activity.”
Aside from the mass AVs that descend on the city for each CES show, Las Vegas is also playing host to a fleet of self-driving taxis operated by Lyft and Aptiv. Earlier this year, the companies said they have completed 50,000 trips.
Presently, the company is using Toyota SUVs to test its self-driving hardware and software. But Zoox also plans to introduce a purpose-built self-driving vehicle without traditional controls. According to a 2018 article in Bloomberg, the early prototype looks like a
… carlike robot about the size and shape of a Mini Cooper. Or actually, like the rear halves of two Mini Coopers welded together. The interior has no steering wheel or dashboard, just an open space with two bench seats facing each other. The whole mock-up looks like someone could punch a hole through it.
The company has said it plans to begin testing its purpose-built vehicle in 2020, with the goal of launching a taxi service soon after.
Like most self-driving startups, Zoox has had its fair share of turbulence. The company’s co-founder and CEO, Tim Kentley-Klay, was ousted last year by the company’s board, and replaced with former Intel executive Aicha Evans. And in a lawsuit filed earlier this year, Tesla accused Zoox of stealing its trade secrets.