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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Sean Hemmersmeier

Fully driverless taxis now on Las Vegas public roads

The race for fully autonomous taxis and cars has taken another step forward in Las Vegas.

Zoox, an autonomous vehicle company and a subsidiary of Amazon, announced Tuesday that its fully autonomous driverless robotaxis have been driving on public roads in Nevada since June 16.

The company said that the driverless cars have been driving employees on a one-mile loop, at speeds up to 35 miles-per-hour, around the Zoox offices in the Southwest part of the Las Vegas Valley, according to a Zoox spokesperson.

“We’ve chosen an initial route that will put our vehicle through its paces,” said a Zoox news release. “It must navigate several unprotected turns and multi-way stops — all on busy public roads with cyclists, pedestrians, and cars.”

The taxi looks different from typical vehicles as it doesn’t have a steering wheel and the seats inside the vehicle face each other.

Nevada is the second state Zoox has put out its autonomous robotaxi, the first deployment of these vehicles happened in February in Foster City, California.

“Driving autonomously in these two unique but equally challenging locations will provide us with invaluable learnings as we fine-tune our technology in preparation for commercial launch,” Jesse Levinson, the co-founder and chief technology officer for Zoox, said in a statement.

Zoox has been operating in Las Vegas since 2019, using Nevada’s roads to build out its autonomous vehicle technology.

A company spokesperson said that these vehicles are operating at “level 4,” which is the second highest level of SAE International’s levels of autonomous driving. Vehicles at level 4 don’t require any human interaction to drive but can be operated only in limited conditions. For vehicles to get to level 5 they need to be able to drive anywhere on roads without human interaction or limitations.

Nevada law allows all automation levels to operate on public roads and companies just have to meet compliance certificates in order to operate autonomous vehicles.

Besides putting driverless cars on Nevada roads, Zoox also announced it will be expanding its operations in Nevada and will be acquiring a 190,000-square-foot warehouse for more vehicles. It will also expand its office presence to accommodate the hiring of dozens of new employees in Nevada.

Moving forward, Zoox said its short-term goal is to provide Las Vegas with driverless rides and then export these vehicles to be used in multiple cities to make them “safer, cleaner, and more enjoyable for everyone.”

No timeline was shared in the news release on when Zoox vehicles will drive beyond the 1-mile loop or when the public can access the vehicles.

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