The Leaders Behind Zoox, Amazon’s New Self-driving Car Company
Amazon has announced that it will acquire Zoox, a California-based startup working to develop electric self-driving vehicles. Zoox was founded in 2014, and has raised nearly $1 billion in funding, with which it is developing autonomous driving technology, including vehicles, for the purposes of providing a full-stack solution for ride-hailing.
Although Amazon did not confirm the amount it’s paying for Zoox, it's being reported that the deal is worth $1.2 billion. This means it is Amazon’s biggest investment yet in self-driving car technology, and one of its biggest purchases ever.
"This acquisition solidifies Zoox's impact on the autonomous driving industry," said Evans.
Zoox was founded in 2014 by Australian artist-designer Tim Kentley-Klay, and Levinson, who was a researcher at Stanford University.
The company has since been singularly focused on creating purpose-built, zero-emissions vehicles designed for autonomous ride-hailing, along with an end-to-end autonomy software stack. That means not only building a new vehicle, but the software and AI to provide its autonomous driving capabilities.
In December 2018, Zoox became the first company to gain approval for providing self-driving transport services to the public in California. It has been testing its self-driving technology in a fleet of retrofitted Toyota SUVs in San Francisco and Las Vegas. However, these tests have been put on pause due COVID-19 shutdowns.
Kentley-Klay served as CEO from the company's inception in 2014, but was replaced by Intel executive Aicha Evans in 2018, a decision made by Zoox’s board. Evans joined Intel in 2006 as a software integration and test manager, and worked her way up to the role of Chief Strategy Officer, where she drove the company’s long-term strategy to transform from a PC-centric company to a data-centric company.
Levinson has been CTO since day one, and he works closely with Evans in managing the 1000+ employees at the company. He is responsible for overseeing the company’s software, artificial intelligence, computing, and sensing platforms. Prior to Zoox, Levinson graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and then completed a computer science Ph.D. at Stanford, where he researched self-driving technology. There, he developed algorithms for Stanford’s $1 Million winning entry in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. He is the son of Apple’s chairman, Arthur D. Levinson.
Ashu Rege is the Senior Vice President of Software Engineering at Zoox, and is responsible for Zoox’s entire software platform, including AI & machine learning, motion planning, computer vision & 3D perception, and mapping software. Rege joined Zoox in 2015, from American tech giant NVIDIA, where he was in charge autonomous vehicle and drone technology projects.
Possibly the biggest challenge facing autonomous driving companies, is human safety. In 2017 Zoox made a statement by appointing a high profile Chief Safety Innovation Officer, Mark R. Rosekind, to lead its safety efforts. Rosekind previously worked under President Obama as the 15th Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and was a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.