U.S. opens probe into Amazon’s Zoox robotaxi self-certification

WASHINGTON, March 6 (Reuters) – A U.S. auto safety regulator said on Monday it is opening a probe into the self-certification by Zoox, Amazon Inc’s (AMZN.O) self-driving vehicle unit, in 2022 of a robotaxi without traditional driving controls.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sets the requirements for such vehicles and a company then develops its own process to prove that they meet the requirements. In September the NHTSA had directed Zoox to answer questions about its basis for certifying its vehicle, and that review is ongoing.

NHTSA said Monday it is opening an audit query to determine whether the Zoox “certification basis depended upon unilaterally developed test procedures or determinations that certain standards were inapplicable due to the unique configuration of the vehicle.”

Zoox general counsel Christopher Nalevanko said in a statement that the company’s self-certification tests “have met or exceeded applicable (federal) performance requirements. We are committed to working closely with NHTSA on the questions they have, and we remain confident in our self-certification process and data.”

The Zoox robotaxi – built as a fully autonomous vehicle from scratch rather than retrofitting existing cars for self-driving – comes without a steering wheel or pedals and has room for four passengers, with two facing each other.

Last month, Zoox said it had successfully tested a robotaxi with employees as passengers on a public road in order to bring the vehicle closer to commercial service for the general public.

The Feb. 11 test, conducted between two Zoox buildings a mile apart at the company’s headquarters in Foster City, California, was part of the launch of a no-cost employee shuttle service that will also help the company refine its technology.

Chief Executive Aicha Evans last month declined to provide a timeline for the commercial launch, which will need additional government clearances.

Online retailer Amazon, which has been aggressively expanding into self-driving technology, bought Zoox for $1.3 billion in 2020.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler