Amazon is purchasing Zoox, a self-driving vehicle company, in a transaction estimated at over $1 billion, says The Details and The Financial Times. The deal will grant Amazon ownership of the nearly 1,000-person company that has been creating a self-driving electric vehicle. Could announce the deal as early as today. Rumors of the purchase first appeared last month when it was announced that in July 2018, Amazon would buy Zoox for less than $3.2 billion.
The acquisition would be the largest investment Amazon has ever made in self-driving car technology and one of its biggest purchases ever. At the moment, though, it’s unclear exactly what Amazon plans to use the technology for. The Information reports that Amazon may use the platform for automated logistics, close to its current robot and drone delivery programs, whilst the Financial Times claims that Amazon will use the purchase to create an automated ride-hailing system to compete with the likes of Alphabet’s Waymo.
Zoox has developed a bi-directional vehicle with no steering wheel or discernible front or rear end, enabling it to travel comfortably in either direction, which the company said will enter testing in 2020. In a fleet of retrofitted Toyota SUVs in San Francisco and Las Vegas, Zoox has been testing its self-driving vehicles. However, COVID-19 shutdowns have impacted these tests, and in April Zoox lay off nearly all of its contract workers, including its backup drivers. Around the time it said it was hoping to re-hire them until the calls for shelter-in-place were lifted.
Recently Zoox revealed that four of the new Tesla employees owned their former employer’s sensitive records when they joined the logistics department at Zoox. The disclosure came after Zoox had settled a lawsuit on the matter, agreeing to pay Tesla an undisclosed amount of money and conducting an audit to ensure that no other employees had Tesla confidential information. It is estimated that Amazon will have to spend billions to get Zoox vehicles into the market.
This will not be Amazon’s first investment in self-driving automobile technology. Last year the e-commerce giant took part in a fund-raising round for Aurora Engineering, an automated tech startup led by Google’s former self-driving vehicle project boss. Amazon has also invested in Rivian, the startup of electric vehicles.