Secretive Startup Zoox is Building a Bidirectional Autonomous Car From the Ground Up

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Most car and tech companies are working toward self-driving cars by retrofitting vehicles with the necessary gadgetry to make them fully-autonomous But there is one weirdly-named, super ambitious secretive startup named Zoox that wants to build a car of the future for the ground up. And now, thanks to Bloomberg Businessweek, we have a better sense of how that might look.


Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance put out a wide-ranging feature on Zoox today that offers one of the most intimate looks yet at a startup trying to master three complicated tasks at once. Zoox wants to build an all-electric car that’s fully-autonomous, and then deploy them into a ride-hailing network like Uber.

For now, the golden ticket to unlocking that trifecta of mobility sits inside a “mystery box” in a San Francisco office building, writes Vance.

It’s a large, wooden crate with no features other than the word “ZOOX” in big, black block letters and a sturdy-looking padlock. For about $100 million, you can get a key and have a look inside.


I’m not actually sure if Vance got to peek, but he sure has a wild description of what’s inside:

Few have had the pleasure. What they saw is a black, 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.


Sounds interesting, yeah?

Zoox knows its mission is a longshot, though, which is refreshing in a haughty world of self-driving cars. CEO Tim Kentley-Klay told Vance that his company’s goal to introduce fully-autonomous cars that are ready to pick up passengers by 2020 is a “huge bet.” And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the outright incredible difficulty of actually building cars. Even more wild is Zoox’s ambitions for the car itself: as Vance puts it, Zoox is planning a “bidirectional” vehicle that can “cruise into a parking spot traveling one way and cruise out the other.” Damn.


But the CEO is clearly confident that what Zoox is prepping can upend the still-fledgling autonomous car industry. If it works, all of Zoox’s competitors—even Google’s self-driving car unit Waymo—are “fucked,” Kentley-Klay said in the story. A bold claim!

Vance also got to test some of the mules Zoox has built, with the latest version apparently capable of sprinting through a course at 75 mph.

Zoox calls these mules VH1, 2, and up to 5. The VH is short for “vaporware horseshit,” Vance explains, “which is how a car blog once described the company’s technology.”


That car blog was Jalopnik, back in 2013, when Zoox had just came onto the scene. But I think it’s safe to say we’d be glad to see what Zoox is working on up close now, including whatever’s inside the box.

Also, you’re welcome for the name, guys.