Bloomberg Businessweek

HYPE MACHINE

ZOOX, A SELF-DRIVING CAR STARTUP VALUED AT $3.2 BILLION, IS ABOUT TO BRING ITS RADICAL VISION OF ROBOT TAXIS TO THE ROAD. OR MAYBE NOT

The mystery box sits inside an all-white room in an office building in San Francisco. It’s a large, wooden crate with no features other than the word “Zoox” in big, black block letters and a sturdy-looking padlock. For about $100 million, you can get a key and have a look inside.

Few have had the pleasure. What you’d see is a black, carlike robot about the size and shape of a Mini Cooper. Or actually, like the rear halves of two Mini Coopers welded together. The interior has no steering wheel or dashboard, just an open space with two bench seats facing each other. The whole mock-up looks like someone could punch a hole through it. Because you’ve just invested $100 million in the thing, you’ve earned the right to have a seat and enjoy a simulated city tour while you pray that this vision of a driverless future will come to pass.

Of the many self-driving car hopefuls, Zoox Inc. may be the most daring. The company’s robot taxi could be amazing or terrible. It might change the world—not in the contemporary Silicon Valley sense, but in a meaningful sense—or it might be an epic flop. At this point, it’s hard to tell how much of the sales pitch is real. Luckily for the company’s founders, there have been plenty of rich people excited to, as Hunter S. Thompson once put it, buy the ticket and take the ride.

Zoox founders Tim Kentley-Klay and Jesse Levinson say everyone else involved in the race to build a self-driving car is doing it wrong. Instead of retrofitting existing cars with fancy sensors and smart software, they want to make an autonomous vehicle from the ground up.

The one they’ve built is all-electric. It’s bidirectional so it can cruise into a parking spot traveling one way and cruise out the other. It makes noises to communicate with

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