Federal regulators are reviewing whether the robotaxi made by Zoox meets requirements to travel on public roads following the self-driving company’s use of the vehicle to transport employees last week.
Unlike a conventional car and the vehicles most other robotaxi developers are using, the Zoox vehicle lacks the steering wheel, brake pedal and other controls human drivers need.
Amazon-owned Zoox started using the robotaxi on Saturday to transport employees between two company offices in Foster City, Calif., after receiving a permit from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. To obtain the permit, Zoox self-certified that the electric vehicle met existing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, CEO Aicha Evans said.
Manufacturers can self-certify compliance. In some cases, NHTSA may scrutinize self-certifications to ensure they conform with the standards.
That’s what’s happening with Zoox.
“The agency is evaluating the basis for these self-certification claims and, as part of this effort, continues to review information provided by Zoox in response to questions previously posed by the agency,” a NHTSA spokesperson told Automotive News.
The regulatory agency does not preapprove or prohibit the introduction of new vehicles or vehicle technology, so long as they conform with the motor vehicle safety standards. Autonomous vehicles that do not comply with the standards can still be deployed, so long as companies first receive a NHTSA exemption.
Zoox did not apply for an exemption, nor did the company pursue other lesser-known regulatory avenues, such as exporting and importing vehicles. Nonetheless, Evans said there were “no limitations” on the company’s deployment, which to date involves a single robotaxi traveling a 1-mile route between the Zoox buildings. Only employees are passengers.
Evans declined to elaborate on how Zoox interpreted the federal standards and its compliance. But many autonomous vehicle industry experts are wondering.
“There is some potential risk in this,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at consulting firm Guidehouse Insights. “It is still an open question on whether what Zoox is doing is legit. Their legal team seems to think it is.”
Zoox’s deployment comes as the industry has grown frustrated with the pace at which federal laws and regulations have addressed auto technology advances, three people familiar with discussions between AV companies and NHTSA said. As companies consider deployments, they’re seeking strategies for navigating the motor vehicle safety standards.