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### Unveiling the Future: Amazon’s Zoox Robotaxis Could Drive Prime Membership to New Heights — This title captures the essence of Amazon’s possible integration of Zoox robotaxi services into its Prime subscription, while hinting at the broader implications for both the company and its customers.

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Hints surface regarding Amazon's enigmatic strategy for Zoox autonomous taxis

An analyst suggests that the self-driving service may be included in Amazon Prime memberships.

Since Amazon purchased the robotaxi startup nearly four years ago, the tech giant's future intentions for Zoox have remained unclear.

"It seems as though they vanished without a trace," stated Gartner Inc. analyst Michael Ramsey regarding Zoox.

Recent advancements in various segments of Amazon's operations suggest potential plans for Zoox as it prepares to launch its commercial driverless service, anticipated by year's end.

Being integrated into the Amazon network, Zoox is uniquely placed to offer a customer experience — both within the vehicle and outside of it — that stands out in the self-driving industry.

The adventure might kick off with a robotaxi service included in Amazon's Prime membership plan.

Subscribers to the Prime membership program enjoy unique discounts and perks related to delivery services, entertainment and streaming options, prescription medications, and additional benefits for an annual fee of $139.

Last week, Amazon introduced a new cost-effective grocery delivery option for its Prime members. For a monthly fee of $10, subscribers can enjoy unlimited deliveries on purchases of $35 or more from Whole Foods Market and Amazon Fresh, both of which are owned by Amazon.

Grayson Brulte, who leads the market intelligence company Road to Autonomy, mentioned that a comparable initiative might soon be developed with Zoox. "This is the natural progression for Amazon," he commented.

When questioned about a potential collaboration with Prime, Zoox representatives were cautious in their responses.

A company representative mentioned that while it's a possibility they could investigate in theory, their current priority is launching their self-driving ride-hailing service.

Zoox leaders have consistently maintained their commitment to ride-hailing, despite external expectations that they might shift towards package delivery, especially considering Amazon's expertise in logistics.

Zoox offers transportation services for its staff commuting between its main office in Foster City, California, and a close-by location. The company intends to start a commercial robotaxi service in Las Vegas within this year.

Incorporating Zoox into a Prime subscription would provide the company with a solid business plan as it targets Las Vegas and, in the future, other areas. This becomes crucial as Zoox moves from the development phase to commercialization.

According to a representative from Zoox, the company has around 2,400 staff members. Their official website currently advertises 265 job vacancies.

According to Brulte, Amazon probably aims to begin recovering part of its expenditures, particularly as CEO Andy Jassy focuses on optimizing efficiency and improving profit margins throughout the organization.

"Amazon has moved past the phase of excessive spending," Brulte remarked. "Zoox must now shift towards a business model focused on commercialization, and eventually, they'll be required to demonstrate some quantifiable results."

Despite competitors like Google's Waymo and General Motors-supported Cruise starting commercial autonomous services in recent years, Zoox has progressed more cautiously. This has raised ongoing doubts about its technological proficiency.

Ramsey explained that people are familiar with the capabilities of Cruise, Waymo, and even Motional through their own experiences. However, when it comes to Zoox, there's a lack of clarity about their progress.

Established in 2014, Zoox embarked on a challenging journey, working on creating an electric vehicle from scratch and developing a self-driving technology, all while planning its own ride-hailing service.

The car lacks standard control mechanisms like a steering wheel and brake pedals. This has presented numerous initial challenges for the company to overcome, according to Marc Wimmershoff, who is the vice president of autonomy software at Zoox.

To illustrate, both Waymo and Cruise have adapted their current vehicles to allow for manual adjustments if they encounter a situation where they are immobilized, a scenario both firms have experienced. Conversely, Zoox's vehicles are required to operate flawlessly without any exceptions.

"Every player will eventually need to tackle these issues," Wimmershoff stated. "However, the timing of when these problems are addressed varies based on the chosen approach."

There are benefits. By abandoning a traditional vehicle design intended for human drivers, Zoox has created a vehicle that optimizes space, comfort, and passenger interaction.

Wimmershoff mentioned that self-driving taxis lacking traditional controls can leave a good impression on users who may not be well-versed in technology, and the experience should resemble that of a train transporting passengers to or from an airport.

He mentioned that for those who aren't tech-savvy, it can be quite unsettling to ride in a self-driving car and watch the steering wheel move on its own. He imagined his grandparents being fascinated by such a sight. However, he assured that when you try their service, it feels completely natural.

With no apparent driver controlling the wheel, Zoox could offer passengers a variety of new ways to stay engaged.

Picture yourself cruising along the Strip in a self-driving pod, catching a "Thursday Night Football" game, which is now only available on Amazon Prime Video. Brulte suggested that in the future, collaborations with casinos could enable Zoox passengers to place bets on these games as they ride.

"Gaming is incredibly popular right now, so picture yourself playing those games in a Zoox vehicle with the ability to place bets," he stated. "That would be quite an experience."

Implementing such a feature would necessitate an amendment to Nevada's gaming laws, which currently ban mobile casinos.

Despite its in-cabin features, Zoox has moved closer to achieving technical milestones that pave the way for its commercial launch.

In March, the company broadened its testing zone in Las Vegas to cover around 5 miles of streets near the Strip. Additionally, it increased the driving speeds to a maximum of 45 mph at its Las Vegas and Foster City sites.

Zoox has introduced features that enable functioning in light rain and during nighttime, which is particularly crucial in Las Vegas, where there is a continuous demand for transportation from tourists, gamblers, and workers.

However, there is an additional risk in play, which could hinder Zoox's plans for future expansion.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently investigating if the company's autonomous taxi meets the safety regulations set by the federal government for motor vehicles.

Zoox declared that it complied with the regulations, despite its vehicles not having conventional driving controls.

Following Zoox's initial deployment of its vehicle on public roads in February 2023, the NHTSA launched an "audit query" to assess if the company adhered to its legal requirements.

The inquiry is still in progress.

A Zoox representative stated in a written statement that the company remains dedicated to collaborating with NHTSA and addressing their inquiries comprehensively.

If the agency blocks self-certification, Zoox's robotaxi deployment plans would face delays. The company would need to seek a different regulatory route to obtain an exemption for its vehicles, a process that could take several years.

In the interim, the issue of robotaxis has turned into a controversial political subject. Labor unions, such as the Teamsters, are advocating for regulations that would either make it more difficult to deploy robotaxis or ban them entirely from public streets. As the tech industry clashes with labor organizations, a decision from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) might not be reached until after the November elections.

At that point, Zoox might be transporting people in Las Vegas. It's a gamble. However, if the NHTSA decides that the vehicle meets the required standards, Amazon's investment in self-driving technology could finally yield returns.

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