About CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says his company wants to be the “Amazon for transportation”. On Friday, Amazon made it clear that it intends to be the Amazon for transportation.
The e-commerce giant has agreed to take over the Bay Area-based autonomous vehicle company Zoox, which is said to be worth over $ 1 billion. (Amazon did not answer WIRED’s questions.) Since it was founded in 2014, Zoox has been known for its technical skills, confidentiality, and sky-high ambition. While Alphabet’s Waymo focuses on self-driving technology and leaves the car building to places like Detroit, Zoox has stuck to its plan to design a robot taxi from scratch ̵
In a press release, Amazon signaled that it will not deviate from Zoox’s huge self-drive destinations. “We are purchasing Zoox to turn their vision of an autonomous journey into reality,” the headline says. Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO of Global Consumer, said in a statement: “Zoox is working to imagine, invent and design an autonomous ride-hail experience of world class.”
That means the autonomous taxi race is now even more interesting. Amazon’s access to space “is an existential threat to Uber and Lyft,” said Asad Hussain, a mobility technology analyst at market analysis firm Pitchbook.
In theory, autonomous vehicles and hail services go hand in hand. While Uber and Lyft struggle to iron out the economics of travel, they continue to spend millions each year on recruiting and hiring drivers. The efforts of states like New York and California to see these drivers as employees continue to threaten their business models. A self-driving car would not need a driver.
But lately, the robot axis seems to have stalled as technology has proven to be more challenging than tech and auto managers once promised. In the past two years, well-funded competitors such as Uber, Lyft, Waymo, Cruise (a subsidiary of General Motors) and ArgoAI (partly owned by Ford and Volkswagen) have postponed deadlines for using self-driving vehicles. Amazon purchased Zoox for well below its 2018 $ 3.2 billion valuation.
Today, only Waymo operates a commercial, autonomous hailstorm service, only in the Phoenix area and only occasionally, without anyone in the driver’s seat monitoring the emerging technology. In 2015, Chris Urmson, a former Google self-driving boss who later co-founded the self-driving startup Aurora, suggested that his 11-year-old son might never need a driver’s license. The son started driving. It was only this week that Aurora signaled that the focus would shift from self-driving taxis to self-driving trucks. “If you want to get to the market quickly with a secure system, there is nothing better than starting trucking,” said Aurora co-founder Sterling Anderson at The Information.
If Amazon drives its own hail network with Zoox vehicles, the company may have some built-in benefits. In a note published a month ago afterwards The Wall Street Journal Brian Nowak, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, first wrote that the Zoox deal was in the works. He wrote that the company could offer discounts to its over 100 million Prime members like Whole Foods. He also theorized that Amazon could be a step ahead of automakers whose ability to pay for moon-shot technology like autonomous vehicles has waned during the recession triggered by Covid-19. “In a post-Covid world, we believe that less and less powerful players will be able to use capital and talent to solve autonomy with a” play to win “mentality,” Nowak wrote.