'Zoox' seeks to test robotaxi in California

STORY: This is new robotaxi - called ‘VH6’ that could soon be hitting the streets of California.

Jesse Levinson is the co-founder of self-driving technology firm Zoox, which is owned by Amazon.

Zoox says it’s gearing up to launch its robotaxi business.

and has applied for a permit in California to test-drive it.

[Jesse Levinson, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer / Zoox]

"So right now we're taking one of the very first rides in our ground up robotaxi. So you'll notice there's no steering wheel, nobody's driving, it's driving all by itself. And we're navigating a pretty tight set of turns in this parking lot."

The VH6 has room for four passengers, with two facing each other.

It’s produced in Zoox’s ‘Kato’ factory in Fremont, California,

a city where Tesla also builds its cars.

[Mark Rosekind, Chief Safety Division Officer / Zoox]

"Trust is huge. So people love to talk about, how are we going to get people in these vehicles? We've got to make sure we have the safety data that absolutely demonstrates this is a great opportunity to help improve safety. We've got to be transparent about all that, and we've got to get people in the vehicle so they realize what a great opportunity this is to help safety, the sustainability and mobility in our society."

Generally, companies making driverless cars have to apply for an ‘exemption’

from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA.

But - this exemption usually limits the number of vehicles that can be manufactured

as well as the period of production.

Zoox has chosen instead to self-certify

to allow the company 'to control its own destiny' and deploy vehicles at scale.

Zoox says the 'Kato' factory has produced dozens of VH6s

and the current location can produce tens of thousands of vehicles.

"So self-certification is important because we want to be able to operate our vehicle on public roads in the United States. And in order to do that, you have to self-certify that your vehicle complies with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that are relevant to your vehicle, of which there are very many. So we built this ground up architecture from the very beginning to comply with the FMVSS and the self-certification is an attestation we've actually done all that work to show that we've done that, including all the documentation, all the testing that goes along with that."

But, self-certifying also make Zoox itself liable for the safety of the vehicles.

Startup Cruise unveiled its vehicle called 'Origin' in 2020

and applied this year for a NHTSA exemption.

A source close to the company said Cruise viewed that method as more responsible

and gives regulators a clearer view into the technology.

Meanwhile Nuro, a self-driving startup backed by SoftBank

manufactured its 'R2' vehicles with an exemption.

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