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Chris Morris

Amazon employees can hitch rides in self-driving taxis in California. Other passengers might be able to before long

Photo of a self-driving taxi (Credit: Zoox, Inc.)

Amazon has started running a driverless taxi service for employees in California.

The company’s Zoox vehicles, which have neither a steering wheel nor pedals, have hit the road after the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles granted Amazon a testing permit. Operations began on Feb. 11. And starting this spring, the company says, full-time employees will be able to ride in the robo-taxi between its Foster City offices during business hours.

“This is a huge milestone for Zoox and the AV industry,” the company said in a blog post. “And it’s a big one for transportation in cities too. We’re one step closer to bringing our purpose-built robo-taxi to the general public. A world of journeys to be enjoyed, not endured, has never felt closer.”

Amazon says this is the first time an autonomous robo-taxi without traditional driving controls has carried passengers on public roads. To get the DMV’s approval for the current phase of the trial, the company ran its fleet (with safety drivers) over 1 million miles on data-gathering missions.

A ride in a Zoox is a bit different than a typical taxi (and not just due to the lack of a driver). The vehicles are fairly small and equipped with passenger benches that face each other. They’ve got four-wheel steering and can drive up to 75 miles per hour, running for 16 hours before needing a recharge.

Amazon bought Zoox in 2020, with an eye on cutting delivery costs and possibly dipping its toes into the ride-hailing and food delivery businesses. Zoox was started in 2016 and lured a team of automotive engineers from Apple before Amazon bought it.

Amazon’s hardly the only company that has its eye on the robo-taxi business. Last year, GM bought more of autonomous-vehicle creator Cruise, bumping its ownership stake up to 80%.

Zoox rides are currently only for Amazon employees, but the company says it hopes to expand that down the road.

"As the company continues to advance its progress and secure additional government clearances, it will expand its service to the general public," it wrote.

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