Why this Amazon-owned company is bringing its autonomous vehicles to Seattle

Seattle residents can start keeping their eyes out for matte black Toyota Highlanders, clad with a wealth of sensors on their roofs, plying the streets of their drizzly city. These retrofitted SUVs belong to Zoox, a self-driving car company owned by Amazon that wants to one day operate autonomous taxi services—like Uber, but with no driver behind the wheel…

The industry goal isn’t solely to build robo-taxis: other sectors involve autonomous trucking, self-driving shuttles, and the also the kind of driver assistance features that are designed for regular cars, like GM’s Super Cruise.

Currently, the self-driving car industry has reached a type of “reality phase,” says Raj Rajkumar, who directs the Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He noticed a “massive hype cycle” that peaked around 2018, and then industry “doldrums” in 2019.

“I think it’s beginning to bounce back,” he says. “Right now, the hype is a lot more muted.”