Amazon’s secret car – InformTFB

Amazon’s secret car

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New car from Zoox with 4 seats and symmetrical design

Startup Zoox (a company founded by an Australian designer and robotics engineer from Stanford) has finally presented its new project, which, according to the company, will not only be the car of the future, but also a conceptually new vehicle.

Most companies working on self-driving cars (either private or robotaxis) have focused their efforts on solving the difficult task of creating a safe and reliable software system for self-driving and adapting it to existing vehicles. Zoox decided to create a car from scratch. The company feels that this approach will allow them to do everything right and provide it with prospects in the transport market of the future.

In the news stream, you could find leaked photos and their discussion. The official launch took place on December 14, 2020. The design of the vehicle reminds me of other robotic cars designed for group trips. Among the characteristic features are a somewhat square (or rather, trapezoidal) shape with a high roof, sliding doors and a low floor for easy boarding/disembarking, as well as seats with the possibility of convenient communication (people look at each other on them). I call this form “robaria” (robotic-line). It is also found in most models of personal automated transport and shuttles – ultra at Heathrow, Navya, Easymile, Olli and in the recent Cruise Origin.

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The interior of a car from Zoox. Durable seat materials, airbags on all sides, charging stations and, of course, Cup holders.

However, the main features of the vehicle from Zoox are not in the form, but in the design elements:

  1. The car is completely symmetrical, has neither a front nor a rear end, and can move in any direction. All components are duplicated (including motors and sensors).
  2. The roof and sensor mounts are designed to provide the sensors with maximum visibility. In each corner of the vehicle, 2 lidars (from Hesai and Velodyne) are installed: one looks out, the other down, to ensure maximum visibility without blind spots, 3 cameras are also installed in each corner, two more cameras on top and 5 radars in each corner.
  3. Lidars operate at a distance of 150 meters with a wavelength of 905 nm – this is not enough for driving at full speed on the highway, but it is enough for urban driving.
  4. The vehicle is equipped with a 4-wheel independent suspension under computer control, which ensures smooth running.
  5. Passengers are facing each other, which allows them to communicate comfortably
  6. The interior is decorated in a Spartan way-it does not have over-complicated instrument panels from modern cars and robotaxis. The cabin has only a small display and charging ports. The seats combine features that are important for a taxi (easy cleaning and wear resistance) and fit the overall design of the car.
  7. The design of the vehicle ensures a low center of gravity and, in combination with the wheels shifted to the corners, frees up space for the passenger compartment.
  8. Each wheel can be rotated independently, which provides a turning radius of 8.6 meters. In many cases, the car does not even need to turn to change direction, it can simply go in the other direction.
  9. The vehicle from Zoox is narrow and short enough for easy driving on streets and roadways, which are problematic for wider vehicles.
  10. Airbags are integrated into the seats and bulkheads between them for added safety. Zoox claim that they originally designed the seats with safety in mind, rather than trying to add safety features to the classic cab/seat design. As a result, all seats are fully protected (unlike most cars, where the main focus is on the front seats).
  11. Zoox reports that their car has passed all crash tests included in the Federal vehicle safety standards. Today, most self-driving cars cannot pass some of these tests, although standards will change. In addition, since Zoox will not supply its vehicles to other companies with robotaxi fleets, The company may avoid regulations on vehicles sold or may fall under exceptions to the standards (this is what most companies involved in robotaxi expect).
  12. Although the Zoox vehicle is designed for urban travel, it can reach speeds of up to 120 km per hour on motorways.
  13. Computers and various electronics are powered by 133kw-h batteries placed under the seats-they are enough for a whole day of car operation.
  14. The technology stack for self-driving at Zoox is based on maps (like most major companies, except Tesla) with object recognition and prediction systems based on neural networks. Before taking to the streets, the company creates HD maps of the region.
  15. The operations center allows support staff to remotely solve problems with car decision-making (like most large companies…). People will not operate cars remotely.

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Zoox front / rear (both sides look the same) with a set of sensors

Zoox is passionate about working on robotaxi. Customers will not own this car – they will be able to call it as Uber and in certain cases will be able to organize joint trips. Also, these vehicles will be well suited for groups traveling together. Here you can see that Zoox says very little about their plans except for the tests in Las Vegas and San Francisco – the company believes that they are ideal for robotaxi operation.

Problems that Zoox will face

While most teams strive for creative freedom when working on a car for robotaxi, many avoid putting in much effort – including in design, production, and scaling. Tesla develops its solutions in this area based on its own cars – they look like ordinary cars, but they can easily be removed from the controls to install a seamless seat in the place where the driver was sitting. Cruise, as part of GM, was able to use the company’s resources to build the Origin-a rough competitor to the car from Zoox. Some details about Origin are known – in particular, that it is not just a concept, but a vehicle that is being prepared for production.

The challenges that Zoox needed to solve were so serious that by the beginning of 2020, The startup ran out of money — at a very inopportune moment. The company decided to sell itself to Amazon at a price barely exceeding the latest estimates. On the other hand, Amazon is a well-heeled parent that can help deal with problems like GM or Waymo (Waymo created a car for experimentation, but the company is currently preparing its fleet and adapting existing car models).

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Seat details, a combination of transit and automotive design, minimalism with a small screen

In many cases, the original design of the car from Zoox will be able to offer passengers the pleasure of traveling. The question is: how significant are these advantages and will they be enough to outweigh them in a few years, when competing companies will appear? Will the advantages of a Zoox car be a welcome addition or an industry standard, and will competitors be able to introduce any mandatory components before the fierce competition in this market begins?

We also don’t know how accurate the Zoox bets are. So, for example, some passengers do not like to go backwards, and some do not care. Perhaps these preferences can be taken into account when landing, but what if the car changes its driving direction? Will these cars only be used for single and group trips, or will they also be filled with unfamiliar passengers who may not want to look each other in the eye all the time?

The competition is still far away. Only Waymo organizes public rides on robotaxis without drivers – and only in a limited region, and to expand it, the company has returned test drivers. Within a few years, companies will be able to deploy in cities where there are no other companies-and will not have competition. We will only see a two-company standoff when two companies come face-to-face in the same city (probably San Francisco).

Will the trip be pleasant enough to stand out from other competitive factors? Will the comfort or features of the vehicle allow you to increase the cost of travel and not lose in demand? Competitors will not stand still. All of them will Refine and improve their solutions, adapt prices and service to get an advantage. In the first few years, they will be prepared to lose all their money (like Uber in order to basically exist). All companies know that they must win, because at some point the robotaxi concept will convince people that it is not necessary to own even one car, which means that all the cars of the winning company will become a replacement for the automotive industry-and this is a huge prize.

Anderson
Anderson
Web site editor and tester.

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