Amazon subsidiary Zoox has begun testing its purpose-built, electric, autonomous robotaxis on public streets in Las Vegas, the company announced Tuesday. Zoox says this marks the first time that an autonomous vehicle built without pedals or a steering wheel has operated on public roads in Nevada.
Zoox is starting small with a one-mile loop around the neighborhood where its Las Vegas facilities are located in the southwest region of the city, with plans to expand in the coming months. The initial route will test Zoox’s robotaxi on several unprotected turns and multi-way stops, as well as its ability to navigate roads with cyclists, pedestrians and other cars, according to a blog post.
The robotaxis, which can transport four people at a time at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, will be available to Zoox employees during workday hours.
Zoox did not specify how many vehicles it will have on the roads or during what hours of operations it will provide this initial robotaxi service. But a company spokesperson did say there will be “multiple” Zoox vehicles testing.
The company said it has been driving on public roads in Vegas since June 16, 2023. Zoox has been in the city for much longer. The company expanded operations to Las Vegas to test, validate and refine its technology in 2019 with an eye towards launching commercial operations there in the future. The company used a test fleet of Toyota Highlanders to map the area and gather data, while driving autonomously with safety drivers on board.
In 2020, Zoox opened an office and depot in Vegas to support its test fleet. The company is now expanding those operations and adding 190,000 square feet of warehouse and office space for its vehicles and its growing team in the region. The company’s workforce, which is spread between several locations in California, Nevada and Washington, has grown from 1,900 employees to 2,200 since the beginning of the year, the company confirmed. The bulk of new hires in Las Vegas are for its “mission readiness” team, which is focused on fleet maintenance and charging.
The Vegas launch follows Zoox’s deployment on public roads in Foster City, California in February. Zoox, which holds a driverless testing permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, is also transporting employees there. Zoox has yet to open up its vehicles to the public.
Nevada is a much easier state in which to test AVs than California, which has a rigorous permitting process overseen by the California DMV. Nevada allows all automation levels to operate on public streets and its DMV doesn’t test or certify vehicles.
Zoox said in a tweet that it had been given authorization from Nevada’s DMV to operate its robotaxi autonomously. According to Nevada law, AV companies that want to develop and test vehicles in the state need to self-certify that vehicles meet the Nevada “minimal risk condition” to be able to stop if there is a malfunction in the system.