Home » The Autonomous Car Company I Called ‘Vaporware Horseshit’ Is Finally Deploying Robotaxis In Vegas

The Autonomous Car Company I Called ‘Vaporware Horseshit’ Is Finally Deploying Robotaxis In Vegas

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I’m not sure how much you remember from the heady days of 2013, when we were all wondering what foxes said and watching compelling seconds upon seconds of video on Vine, but one thing I remember was that there was a mysterious company showing a Level 4 automated vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The company was called Zoox, and I remember them because of their oddly mysterious and cryptic web presence, which gave absolutely no information about the company or product, leading me to suggest that perhaps this Zoox company (which enjoys a lot of investment from internet book-and-everything-seller Amazon) was “vaporware horseshit,” like so many other tech startups. Well now, 11 years after I so callously applied those words to this company, they’re starting actual robotaxi service in Las Vegas!

Is this one of those situations where I need to eat my words, or issue a formal apology? Maybe? I don’t know. It’s been over a decade, and, besides, the Zoox people have seemed to embrace the “vaporware horseshit” moniker because they good-naturedly have named all of their vehicles VH-(number), after the initials of my unflattering speculative term. [Ed Note: Yes, you read that right. They are naming their models after the term Jason used in his blog. Incredible! -DT]. 

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The basic design of Zoox’s robotaxi – which they claim to be the “first” robotaxi because it may be the first purpose-built one and not an adaptation of an existing automobile (like the robotaxis from Waymo or Cruise have been) – is interesting, in that it is a bi-directional design with no provision for human driving whatsoever.

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Zoox claims the design was inspired by old horse carriages, and the seating position, two rows of two passengers each, facing one another, certainly fits that old stagecoach-like model. Last year, the company ran into some hiccups with federal certification of their AVs because they seem to have just come up with their own test procedures, but it appears they’ve managed to get certification now.

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They do seem to have done some crash testing, even:

Zoox has been testing their robotaxi around Las Vegas for the past year, saying this about their plans:

We’re kicking things off with a one-mile loop around the neighborhood where our Las Vegas HQ is located, and we will expand over the coming months. Our robotaxis can transport four people at a time along this public route, at speeds up to 35 mph. The first riders are Zoox employees, and what we learn from these journeys will help us build our future public service.

We’ve chosen an initial route that will put our vehicle through its paces. It must navigate several unprotected turns and multi-way stops—all on busy public roads with cyclists, pedestrians, and cars.

It now seems they’re about ready to start commercial service, and they appear to have arranged for YouTube personality Supercar Blondie (who actually appears to have pinkish hair) to ride around in one and gush about it:

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The video also does note how the dream of automated vehicles is nearing 100 years old, as it was 1925 when the experimental Houdina radio-controlled vehicle was tested, leading to escape artist Harry Houdini trashing the company’s office.

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The Zoox interior looks fairly comfortable and hard-wearing, with every passenger getting a cupholder and inductive phone charger, and bench seats that seem to be designed to impede laying down and sleeping on. The glass doors also limit the amount of privacy inside the vehicle, which I suspect was done to keep people from using these as a convenient place to bone.

Zoox seems to be planning on expanding their Vegas service area from one mile trips to five-mile ones, and the speed of their cars from 35 mph to 45 mph. Once this officially starts operation, I suppose it will be significant because of the purpose-built nature of the vehicle, though overall I’m not really sure how important that is.

Still, it’s interesting. I think Level 4 – that is, AVs that operate in specific, mapped-out areas – are the best bet for achieving the sorts of things we seem to want from automated vehicles, and feel like a better use of development and resources at this moment than the vastly more difficult full Level 5 (no restrictions, just self-driving anywhere and everywhere).

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So, is this company, which has funding and plans and several generations of actual hardware no longer Vaporware Horseshit?

Maybe. I think I need to ride in one first and see. Because I take my Vaporware Horseshit de-classifications seriously.

 

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Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
9 days ago

There is a chance that they are not vaporware, but may still be horseshit.

It’s one thing to build a vehicle in low volume… but to build the vehicle in sufficient volumes to make money AND it be a vehicle that is durable and reliable in real world use… THAT is a whole lot more difficult.

Case in point… the Yugo. It was not vaporware. But due to the shit reliability and inferior design compared to most other vehicles of that time, it was still horseshit.

Arthur Flax
Arthur Flax
9 days ago

VH may be the greatest name for a car ever! Heck, it’s the greatest name for anything that smacks of incredulity! Ah, our company is coming out with a 3,000 horsepower hydrogen ammonia powered car that flies. It’s called the VH 10 squared!…Next time I come upon a group of friends at a party, bloviating about some idea or another that will never come to pass, I expect to be addressed as Mr. VH !…Though to be fair, Jason is really the only person with the bonafides to carry the moniker, that’s Mr. VH to you!

Last edited 9 days ago by Arthur Flax
Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
10 days ago

One would think they’d want Jason to ride in one, if they’re really naming their models after what he’d said.

I think this seems like a nicely-designed vehicle to be a robotaxi, though I wonder how good they’ll be at the driving aspect. We’ll see! They do seem to understand to take things kinda slow at first, instead of just promising the moon from day one.

Steven Moor
Steven Moor
10 days ago

Do these come with sticky floors and suspicious seat puddles from the factory?

John Patson
John Patson
10 days ago

Rip off of the French Navya — which actually runs on a few campuses and airports, but lost a lot of people a lot of money when it went from stock market wonder to scrapheap sale….

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
10 days ago

Separately, hasn’t the autonomous Navya Arma been operating downtown on a prescribed route for quite a while now? I know they were at one point.

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
10 days ago

Not to poop on the parade too much but according to the EPA certificate, the official name of the vehicle is the Zoox Sedan. Maybe only internally they are using the VH- moniker, but that’s really a shame.

Brau Beaton
Brau Beaton
10 days ago

The last time I took a cab, the driver was a wonderful highlight of the trip to the hospital. Instead of it being a sad ride due to my wife’s recent cancer diagnosis, he had us laughing all the way and feeling good. No ZOOX can do that. But we should all dream for a xenophobic future where we never have to face any “strangers”, right?

Last edited 10 days ago by Brau Beaton
Industrial_design_guy
Industrial_design_guy
10 days ago
Reply to  Brau Beaton

How about a Zoox with an AI attendant? Sad future we’re moving towards.

Mr E
Mr E
10 days ago

I’m having flashbacks to Total Recall now.

Brau Beaton
Brau Beaton
10 days ago
Reply to  Mr E

Lol. The automated checkout voice at my local food market sounds identical, which prompts me to respond “Thanks for choosing Johnny Cab” almost every time.

Arthur Flax
Arthur Flax
9 days ago
Reply to  Mr E

I recall a taxi driver with a plastic head and a woman with three breasts. But my memory stops there.

Last edited 9 days ago by Arthur Flax
Beached Wail
Beached Wail
11 days ago

They need to name the production robotaxi the “Geographically Autonomous Driverless Zoox” AKA Gadzoox.

Anoos
Anoos
11 days ago

Things can exist in Las Vegas and still be Vaporware Horseshit.

They claim to have public transit, but stations require a winding three mile walk through casino floors and if you do ever get there, it can’t take you to the one place you probably need to go – the airport.

SCJeff
SCJeff
11 days ago

About two months ago I got an opportunity to ride in one of these. It was really impressive how natural the driving felt. Stops, starts, speed, etc. all felt exactly like if a good driving human was behind the wheel. The only weird sensation was when it parked (side by side parking in a lot) and then left and the rear of the car became the front. It took a second for my brain to register that backwards had become forwards.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
11 days ago

I have no real feelings about the vaporware status of this…mini-bus. However, I absolutely love this article’s topshot!

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
11 days ago

How long before we get the future as seen in éX-Driver? A relatively obscure and entertaining anime series from nearly 25 years ago which was set in the near future (so about right now, ha) and was based on the premise that vitually nobody drives anymore because of the proliferation of AI-piloted taxis but a handful of people do drive and are tasked with the job of stopping runaway AI-piloted taxis while driving vintage gas-engined cars such as a Lotus Europa, a Caterham Super Seven, and a Lancia Stratos.
http://imcdb.org/movie_1000946-Ekusu-doraibaa.html

Last edited 11 days ago by Collegiate Autodidact
Bob
Bob
11 days ago

[Orgasm noises]

Bob
Bob
11 days ago
Reply to  Bob

How has it taken me 25 years to know about this and how is it possible that car internet doesn’t talk about this all of the time?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2lsWxpjHD0

Bob
Bob
11 days ago
Reply to  Bob
Last edited 11 days ago by Bob
Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
11 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Yeah, the series is pretty obscure, perhaps inexplicably so. While it’s highly entertaining (I’ve actually seen the entire series several times now, plus the amount of fan service is thankfully relatively minimal compared to a lot of other anime) it does require some pretty strong suspension of disbelief in that the drivers are teenagers with one being as young as 13, ha. One of the reasons for its obscurity may be that it was so overshadowed by its contempoary Initial D. And only a few episodes, plus a follow up movie, were ever produced. It’s well worthwhile watching for the cool cars used by the éx-Drivers and it’s also interesting to see what people 25 years ago thought the future would look like with AI and self-driving cars; some of it actually seems kind of prescient in light of the problems that the likes of Cruise and Waymo have been currently experiencing. One does wonder how it’ll work out with Zoox…

Bob
Bob
11 days ago

VersVerstappen was only 17 when he made it to F1, and there are much younger drivers in lower series around the world. Speed Racer was only 18. It doesn’t throw me that much.

Tubi’s been trying to make some moves.

https://tubitv.com/series/300005946/x-driver

Last edited 11 days ago by Bob
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