For Aicha Evans, the road to a “robo-taxi” is as much a journey to culture-shifting change as it is for leadership in a multibillion-dollar industry.
“We want to make a profound impact in how we live as a society,” says Evans, the former Intel Corp. executive who took over the helm of self-driving technology startup Zoox Inc. in early 2019.
“We want to redesign, recycle and rethink the industry,” Evans told MarketWatch from Zoox’s headquarters in Foster City, Calif.
The Silicon Valley company has been steeped in secrecy for most of its five years of existence. Few have seen its electric car, described in a Bloomberg News report as a “carlike robot about the size and shape of a Mini Cooper.” What tests it has performed of its software system have been in Toyota Highlanders traversing the streets of San Francisco and Las Vegas for several months. A commercial pilot is expected in 2021.
How Zoox expects to compete with Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo self-driving subsidiary, Cruise, Aurora, and others is as audacious as Evans’ quest to offer a “moving living room” of luxury that doesn’t contribute to parking and environmental problems. Zoox has burned through hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and is taking a radically different approach.
She’s convinced that Zoox’s approach — design a unique two-seat car without a steering wheel, pedals and dashboard rather than retrofit an auto to be autonomous — will quickly establish it as one of a handful of market leaders.
A fleet of some 40 vehicles were manufactured in the East Bay, and the mystery robo-taxi is being tested at an undisclosed location, also in the region.
Heidi Roizen, a partner at Threshold Ventures who is a member of Zoox’s board, goes so far as to call it a “moonshot” — with immense upside because it tightly blends a unique hardware design with a proprietary software system.
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