Autonomous car testing is usually done in dry climates — Arizona and Nevada, mostly — for the simple reason that, when it rains, snows, sleets, or otherwise isn’t sunny and dry, that could pose problems for cars with no human drivers, possibly delicate sensors, and software that may not know how to react. But Zoox, one of the startups chasing the robotaxi dream, said it would start testing its autonomous tech in Seattle, precisely because it rains a lot there. If these cars are ever going to be a thing, they’ll have to deal with it eventually in any case.
The cars Zoox will be testing in Seattle are not actually Zoox’s own car but Toyota Highlanders equipped with Zoox tech, according to Bloomberg. The testing will complement testing Zoox is already doing in Las Vegas and California. This, to me, suggests that Zoox is at least willing to confront the fact that autonomous cars will have to know how to handle weather, which isn’t everyone.
Zoox will also open an office in Seattle next year.
“Seattle is not a hot spot of autonomous vehicle engineering yet. But it’s absolutely a hot bed of computer scientists in general,” Zoox co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jesse Levinson said in an interview. “Seattle’s weather is also a big reason, to put the Zoox vehicle through inclement weather testing and see how water impacts the sensors.”
Levinson also said, as far as Amazon buying Zoox: So far, so good.
“While we are very independent from Amazon and operate separately, especially with COVID ramping down, we do look forward to spending time with folks up there,” Levinson said.
Despite Amazon’s money and the new testing, Zoox, like every other autonomous startup, still seems very, very far from deploying a fleet of robotaxis, like years and years away. Or at least a robotaxi fleet that can be deployed anywhere you ask it. Just wait till Zoox starts testing in snow and ice.