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Amazon’s Zoox is testing self-driving cars in Seattle so they can learn to cope with lots of rain

A Zoox autonomous robotaxi.

  • Amazon-owned Zoox will start testing driverless cars in Seattle, the company told Bloomberg.
  • Zoox’s chief technology officer said one of the main reasons was Seattle’s famously bad weather.
  • Zoox wants to “see how water impacts the sensors” on the cars, its cofounder said.

Amazon-owned robotaxi startup Zoox is set to start testing self-driving cars on the streets of Seattle.

Zoox’s cofounder and Chief Technology Officer Jesse Levinson told Bloomberg there were two reasons Zoox had picked Seattle as its new testing ground. The first was so it could attract local engineering talent – Seattle was a “hot bed of computer scientists,” he said.

The second was Seattle’s famously bad weather.

“Seattle’s weather is also a big reason, to put the Zoox vehicle through inclement weather testing and see how water impacts the sensors,” Levinson said.

In the past, some self-driving systems have been shown to be disrupted by rain and snow.

Instead of deploying its robotaxis, which have yet to make an appearance in the wild, Zoox will send out specially equipped Toyota Highlanders into Seattle. The cars will be fitted with the company’s sensors and self-driving software.

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, and it’s the exact same principle for our technology,” Kai Wang, Zoox’s director of prediction, told The Verge.

“The challenges of the Seattle area will let us hone our software stack and ultimately improve the behavior of our vehicles,” he added.

Seattle is also the home town of Zoox’s parent company, Amazon, which bought Zoox in June 2020 for a reported $1.2 billion.

Levinson told Bloomberg that while Zoox was “very independent” from Amazon, “we do look forward to spending time with folks up there.”

Zoox would also set up its own office in Seattle, per Bloomberg.

Zoox has already road-tested its technology on roads in California and Las Vegas. Last week, it released footage of one of its driverless cars navigating across six lanes in downtown Las Vegas.

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