US Safety Agency Investigates Amazon’s Zoox Following Self-Driving Taxi Collisions

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In a surprising and intricate development, the federal U.S. government’s highway safety agency has officially launched an investigation into Amazon’s self-driving robotaxi service, Zoox. This follows an incident in which two of the company’s autonomous vehicles sharply braked spontaneously, resulting in collisions from motorcyclists trailing behind.

Both incidents occurred under the bright clarity of daylight and involved Toyota Highlander SUVs equipped with state-of-the-art, self-driving technology by Zoox. It’s noteworthy that at the time of these incidents, both Amazon vehicles were operating independently in their autonomous mode. Documented reports stated that one incident resulted in minor injuries to a motorcyclist, while a Zoox driver sustained minor injuries in the other accident, respectively. These unfortunate accidents transpired last month, one unfolding in the bustling city streets of San Francisco, while the other took place in Spring Valley, Nevada.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has emphasized that the probe’s main aim is to examine the accuracy and robustness of Zoox’s automated driving system during the incidents. Furthermore, it will scrutinize the system’s behavior around crosswalks, pedestrian zones, and other areas comprising potentially vulnerable road users.

In a firm yet cooperative response, Zoox stated its commitment to working dutifully with the NHTSA to address all questions and concerns. The company stressed the cardinal importance of transparency and collaboration with regulatory bodies. It also pointed out that during all its operations, there was at all times a human safety driver on board the vehicles, underscoring its focus on safety.

Zoox had dutifully reported these accidents as stipulated by a directive issued to automated vehicle companies in 2021. The tech behemoth Amazon strengthened its stakes in autonomous vehicle technology by acquiring Zoox in June 2020 for a sum thought to exceed $1 billion by industry analysts.

Zoox, based out of Foster City in California, had previously made headlines in 2023 as it successfully transported employees autonomously between two of its buildings via its funky-looking four-person shuttles. This shuttle service remains exclusive to company employees, but industry predictions hint at Amazon using the Zoox system for autonomous package deliveries in the future.

Zoox’s innovative shuttles are devoid of a steering wheel or pedals, with the carriage-style interior featuring two bench seats facing one another. Despite its compact frame standing a foot shorter than a standard Mini Cooper, these futuristic vehicles can reach speeds of up to a swift 75 miles per hour. However, its operational speed on public roads is limited to 35 miles per hour as a safety measure.

All of this comes at a time when Zoox is already under federal investigation by the NHTSA, who in March 2022 initiated a separate probe into the company’s claim of meeting all federal safety standards for automotive vehicles. The agency stated it would further inspect whether Zoox had employed its own testing procedures to validate certain federal standards, possibly non-valid because of the unique configuration of its robotaxis.