Zoox to begin trials of its autonomous vehicles in Seattle

In the context: Amazon-owned Zoox has been testing autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas and the Bay Area for four years, long before the retail giant bought the company. The tests helped Zoox better understand how its cars behave in these conditions, but other areas with completely different climates may be just as important to study.

To improve the capabilities of Zoox L3 autonomous vehicles (standard vehicles equipped with autonomous driving software and hardware), the company plans to: to run tests in Seattle. Seattle’s infrastructure and driving culture is quite distinctive compared to other test locations, but the only thing that separates Seattle from Las Vegas and the Bay Area is rain.

Standard cars tend to fight bad weather with windshield wipers and defrosters, but Zoox cars can do more. Zoox L3 vehicles have “special hardware” built into the sensor architecture to remove water and debris, and given how often it rains in Seattle, this should be easier to verify.

Initially, Zoox will deploy a “small number” of L3 Toyota Highlanders throughout Seattle to survey the city, providing the data needed to adapt the autonomous system to the region. This data will then be used by CLAMS (calibration, localization and mapping at the same time) and ZRN (Zoox road network) teams to create a city map, including bike lanes, speed limits, traffic lights and more.

Once completed, the map will allow Zoox L5 vehicles, such as its robotic taxis and other custom built vehicles, to get to work when they are deployed in the city.

“A smooth sea has never been useful to a skilled seafarer, and this is the same principle for our technology,” said Kai Wan, director of forecasting at Zoox. “Seattle’s challenges will allow us to hone our software stack and ultimately improve the behavior of our cars.”

Zoox also plans to open offices in Seattle in 2022, for a total of four offices in the US (the rest are in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Foster City). The Seattle office will allow the company to accelerate development of the system ahead of its final launch. However, Zoox said it will only launch its autonomous vehicles when it can ensure that its “vehicle is significantly safer than human driving,” so it may take a while.

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