Amazon to acquire autonomous driving startup Zoox

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Amazon has announced that it will acquire Zoox, a self-driving startup founded in 2014, which has raised nearly $1 billion in funding and which aims to develop autonomous driving technology, including vehicles, for the purposes of providing a full-stack solution for ride-hailing.

Zoox will continue to exist as a standalone business according to Amazon’s announcement, with current CEO Aicha Evans continuing in her role, as well as CTO and co-founder Jesse Levinson. Their overall company mission will also remain the same, the release notes.

The Wall Street Journal had reported at the end of May that Amazon was looking at Zoox as a potential acquisition target, and that the deal had reached the advanced stages.

Zoox has chosen one of the most expensive possible paths in the autonomous driving industry, seeking to build a fit-for-purpose self-driving passenger vehicle from the ground up, along with the software and AI ended to provide its autonomous driving capabilities. Zoox has done some notable cost cutting in the past year, and it brought in CEO Evans in early 2019 from Intel, likely with an eye towards leveraging her experience to help the company move towards commercialization.

With a deep-pocketed parent like Amazon, Zoox should gain the runway it needs to keep up with its primary rival – Waymo, which originated as Google’s self-driving car project, and which counts Google owner Alphabet as its corporate owner.

Amazon has been working on its own autonomous vehicle technology projects, including its last-mile delivery robots, which are six-wheeled sidewalk-treading bots designed to carry small packages to customer homes. The company has also invested in autonomous driving startup Aurora, and it has tested self-driving trucks powered by self-driving freight startup Embark.

The Zoox acquisition is specifically aimed at helping the startup “bring their vision of autonomous ride-hailing to reality,” according to Amazon, so this doesn’t look to be immediately focused on Amazon’s logistics operations for package delivery. But Zoox’s ground-up technology, which includes developing zero-emission vehicles built specifically for autonomous use, could easily translate to that side of Amazon’s operations.

Meanwhile, if Zoox really does remain on course for passenger ride-hailing, that could open up a whole new market for Amazon – one which would put it head-to-head with Uber and Lyft once the autonomous driving technology matures.

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