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Amazon’s Zoox under investigation by NHTSA after two crashes

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A Toyota sport-utility vehicle modified by Zoox, a subsidiary of Amazon.com, which combines radars, lidar, and cameras to test its software, drives on a road ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) of Las Vegas, Nevada on January 3, 2023.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. safety regulators have opened a probe into Amazon-owned robotaxi venture Zoox after two of its autonomous SUVs braked suddenly and were rear-ended by motorcyclists.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday it initiated an investigation after two Toyota Highlanders equipped with Zoox’s automated self-driving braked unexpectedly. In both cases, motorcyclists collided with the Zoox vehicles, which led to minor injuries.

NHTSA said it confirmed that each Zoox car had been operating in autonomous mode when the incidents occurred. Both collisions took place during the daytime and within the operational design limits of Zoox’s autonomous system.

The agency’s probe covers about 500 vehicles and focuses on the performance of Zoox’s automated driving system, specifically how it behaves near crosswalks and “in other similar rear-end collision scenarios.”

A Zoox spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that the company is reviewing the request for information from NHTSA, and declined to share further details about the incidents.

“Transparency and collaboration with regulators is of the utmost importance, and we remain committed to working closely with NHTSA to answer their questions,” the spokesperson added. 

Amazon acquired Zoox for a reported $1.2 billion in 2020. Zoox, which has largely continued to operate as a standalone unit within Amazon, has been developing an electric, fully driverless vehicle designed for ride-hailing. Zoox has been testing its robotaxis in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Foster City, California. In March, the company said it was expanding its operating routes in those areas to include a larger area, faster speeds, nighttime driving and light rain conditions.

This latest news marks at least the second probe into Zoox by the NHTSA. In March 2023, the agency said it would investigate Zoox’s 2022 self-certification that its robotaxi met federal safety standards.

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