Autonomous vehicle (AV) startup Zoox is planning to launch a robotaxi network in Las Vegas next year, a company spokeswoman confirmed to Smart Cities Dive.
The Zoox spokeswoman said the company received permission from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) early this year to drive autonomously on state roads and is currently mapping and test-driving new routes in the Las Vegas region. This is in addition to existing AV testing in California.
Details on the upcoming robotaxi service are thin, however. The Zoox spokeswoman declined to offer further information on a launch date or routes, while representatives of the City of Las Vegas and Clark County, NV had no further details either. City spokesman Jace Radke told Smart Cities Dive in an email that the new service is "news to me."
Zoox is excited to announce Las Vegas as a target market for our autonomous driving fleet and service. Alongside our beloved SF, Vegas will serve as an anchor market for us to rigorously test and validate, as we continue to create autonomous mobility from the ground up. pic.twitter.com/YzIFZE9O5P— Zoox (@zoox) October 3, 2019
Zoox received a permit to test in California last year from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), albeit with the provision that it cannot charge for trips and must have a certified safety driver as backup. The Zoox spokeswoman said Las Vegas represents a good opportunity for more tests.
"The unique nature of Las Vegas makes for an ideal setting to test, validate and scale our AV technology," she told Smart Cities Dive in an email. "Additionally, factors like higher temperatures and road design (i.e. reversible lanes and higher speed limits) help expose our vehicles to new scenarios from which they can learn. For these reasons, testing on Las Vegas roads complements our testing in San Francisco."
But there is plenty of paperwork ahead for the company if they are to roll out.
Nevada Department of Business and Industry spokeswoman Teri Williams confirmed in an email to Smart Cities Dive that Zoox has a permit to operate AVs in the state, but still needs a certificate of public convenience and necessity from either the Nevada Transportation Authority (NTA), which regulates AV networks, or the Nevada Taxicab Authority if it wishes to carry passengers. Williams added that neither body has yet received an application.
The Las Vegas area has been a hotbed for AV testing, including one of the country’s first autonomous shuttles and a pledge by real estate investment trust Bleutech Park Properties of a $7.5 billion project in the Las Vegas Valley that includes AVs among other initiatives.
Meanwhile, ride-hailing giant Lyft says it has given more than 50,000 AV rides in the city, and has experimented with a partnership with Aptiv and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to provide self-driven rides to blind and low-vision riders.
This pledge of a robotaxi network is the latest from an AV provider. Earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that company would have a fleet of self-driving taxis available to the public next year, although few other details have come out since that announcement. These pronouncements also come with Lyft CEO Logan Green warning that full autonomy is a long way off.
Meanwhile, Tesla and Zoox are currently embroiled in a court case with the former alleging the theft of trade secrets. According to court documents, an initial hearing on the case is set for December.
The Zoox spokeswoman added that their fleet of more than 30 retrofitted vehicles is "growing quickly," and is being tested in a wide variety of scenarios and environments, something that will be crucial to allay safety concerns.
"These vehicles execute highly complex driving scenarios on freeways and in dense urban and suburban environments," she said. "They operate day and night in a variety of weather conditions, including rain and fog."