Zoox CTO and co-founder Jesse Levinson revealed a few more details today about the company’s autonomous vehicle hardware, which it’s designing along with its software stack from the ground up. Levinson told us onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility that Zoox’s vehicle will have fully independent active four-wheel suspension — a design detail that will translate to a much smoother ride for passengers.
Levinson took us through the Zoox vehicle design at a high level, including covering some of the information he and the company have disclosed previously. The car will have four seats, with sets of two front and back facing inward toward each other. To help accommodate this unique seating arrangement, airbags used in the car will essentially “envelop” passengers, and the absence of both steering wheel and dashboard will actually mean that it’s one of the safest vehicles on the road, in the company’s opinion, because it prioritizes the safety of all passengers in the car equally, rather than weighting the features for driver or front seat passengers like traditional cars.
Levinson also told us after the onstage interview that the vehicle will be just a bit taller than a BMW i3, but slightly shorter front to back than that electric compact car. That’s a small footprint for a four-passenger vehicle, but inside there will presumably be considerable space savings from the lack of dash, steering wheel and gas and brake pedals. On the subject of the independent, four-corner active steering, Levinson explained that while it incurs an additional cost, that will ultimately be insignificant on a per-trip basis, and the benefits for consumes will be huge.
“If you think about it, you know, when you drive a car, people like to feel connected to the road and feel the bumps, and it’s exciting,” Levinson said. “But if you’re a passenger in the car, you don’t want any of that. So for robotaxis, it’s sort of self-evident, you’d want it to be as smooth and comfortable as possible. Now, cars generally don’t have active suspension on all four wheels, because that’s kind of expensive. And it’s not even something drivers necessarily want. Whereas for robotaxis, when you get to amortize the cost of that hardware over people using it and paying for it all day long, all of a sudden, the cost of putting an extra suspension is kind of negligible per ride, but it really improves the customer experience.”
The car will also have drive-by-wire steering for both the front and rear set of wheels, which means that it’ll be able to angle both sets of wheels at once instead of just one. That will make actions like changing lanes or navigating into on-street parking much more efficient, more direct and potentially safer.
As for its sensor equipment, the Zoox car uses four lidar units on each corner of the vehicle instead of one large unit on the top of the car like many others employ today. The input captured from each lidar is combined via sensor fusion with data from radar and optical cameras positioned around the vehicle, and Levinson says the nice thing about their approach is that it has ample redundancy, so that any one of these lidar sensors can fade and you still get a complete picture of the vehicle’s surroundings.
Zoox is already demonstrating its fully electric vehicle for partners and insiders behind closed doors, but it isn’t yet ready to show off the car to press or the general public. Levinson tells us you shouldn’t have too hard a time imagining what the full product will look like, but details like the four-wheel active suspension definitely help fill in the remaining gaps.