Amazon’s Self-Driving Robotaxi Under Investigation After Two Rear-End Crashes

Amazon launches self-driving cabs and crashes two motorcyclists after sudden breakdowns
Written by Jim Belt in News 14 May 2024

Amazon's foray into the world of autonomous driving has hit a bit of a speed bump. The US government's highway safety agency is now investigating Zoox, Amazon’s self-driving robotaxi unit, following two rear-end collisions involving their vehicles.

Key takeaways:

  • The government is investigating Amazon's self-driving car company Zoox. This comes after two crashes involving Zoox's autonomous vehicles.
  • The investigation will look at how Zoox's self-driving system handles crashes and interacts with pedestrians.
  • Zoox says it will cooperate with the government. But the probe highlights the challenges companies face getting self-driving cars approved for public roads.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has taken notice. They’re digging into the automated driving system crafted by Zoox. Both incidents featured Toyota Highlander SUVs equipped with Zoox’s autonomous tech. These crashes occurred during daylight, and the vehicles were in autonomous mode at the time. One motorcyclist walked away with minor injuries, while a Zoox safety driver reported minor injuries in the other incident. The crashes took place last month, one in the bustling streets of San Francisco and the other in Spring Valley, Nevada.

NHTSA’s probe is set to assess how Zoox’s automated system performs not only in crash scenarios but also around pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

Zoox has stated its commitment to cooperating with NHTSA. "Transparency and collaboration with regulators is of utmost importance," the company said. They also noted that human safety drivers were present in the vehicles at the time.

These incidents were reported under a 2021 mandate requiring automated vehicle companies to disclose such events.

Amazon snapped up Zoox in June 2020 for a cool billion-plus, according to analysts. Fast forward to 2023, and the Foster City-based company revealed that one of its unique four-person shuttles had successfully transported employees on public roads between two Zoox buildings.

Zoox has rolled out a shuttle service exclusively for its employees. Analysts are speculating that Amazon might leverage the Zoox system for autonomous deliveries in the future.

Zoox’s shuttles are quite the spectacle. With no steering wheel or pedals, the interior features two benches facing each other. The vehicle itself is just under 12 feet long, making it about a foot shorter than a standard Mini Cooper. It can reach speeds of up to 75 miles per hour, though it's currently cruising public roads at a max of 35 miles per hour.

This isn't Zoox’s first brush with NHTSA scrutiny. Back in March 2022, the agency began examining the company’s claim that its vehicle met federal safety standards. NHTSA wanted to determine whether Zoox had used its own testing methods to declare that certain federal standards didn’t apply due to the robotaxi’s unique design.

As Zoox navigates these regulatory challenges, the world is watching. Will Amazon’s autonomous ambitions hit the brakes, or is this just a bump in the road on the path to a driverless future? Only time will tell.