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The 200-year-old inspiration for Zoox’s radically new robotaxi

When the autonomous taxi company Zoox unveiled its vehicle last December it was somewhat of a surprise.It was a tall, squarish, perfectly symmetrical vehicle with rounded corners and sliding glass doors on either side and wheels with striking silver hubs. Inside was a large, open cabin with four comfortable-looking seats facing each other; the electric motor hidden beneath the floorboard could propel the vehicle in either direction at up to 75 mph.

The vehicle looked like a clean break from 135 years of automotive history. Which make sense: Not only is it self-driving, but it’s not not designed for sale to consumers. It’ll be part of a fleet. Zoox’s real product is a system of autonomous taxis that will move people around urban environments.

Zoox is one of the few companies that has built an autonomous vehicle from the ground up. Much of the work going on in autonomous vehicles today involves building autonomous driving software into existing consumer market electric vehicles. At seven-year-old Zoox, the plan was always to build a vehicle that could serve as an autonomous taxi in dense urban environments. After the company was acquired by Amazon in 2020 the vision remained the same.

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