NEW YORK (AP) – Amazon said on Friday it is buying the self-driving technology company Zoox, which is developing an autonomous vehicle for a ride service people would request on their phone.
Seattle-based Amazon has not disclosed how much it will pay for Zoox, which was founded in Foster City, California, six years ago.
The online retail giant said Zoox will continue to run as a separate company and develop its own autonomous vehicle.
“We are excited to help the talented Zoox team achieve their vision for the coming years,” said Jeff Wilke of Amazon, who leads the company’s retail business.
The deal could drive Amazon to a whole new company: getting people from one place to another. But some analysts think Amazon’s ultimate goal is to reposition the Zoox vehicle for its core business of delivering parcels to customers.
“I suspect in the short term that Amazon is likely more interested in taking that platform and adapting it as an alternative or addition to its existing fleet of vans,” said Sam Abuelsamid, lead analyst for Guidehouse Insights, who follows autonomous vehicle developments.
Abuelsamid says Zoox has a good autonomous system and planned to deploy a ride hailing service next year. It also builds its own bi-directional vehicle. He sees Amazon turning the small vehicles into mobile lockers that would stop at delivery locations for people to pick up packages.
Amazon did not directly answer the question of whether autonomous parcel delivery was the goal, but said Zoox “would continue to work on their mission to transform mobility as a service by developing a fully autonomous purpose-built car.”
The company warned that the widespread use of autonomous vehicles will be gone for years and requires significant capital investment in a busy area.
Autonomous delivery would fit Amazon’s plans to deliver more of its packages alone, less dependent on UPS and the US postal service. In recent years, it has expanded its fleet of aircraft, built airport parcel sorting hubs and launched a program to help people start companies delivering parcels in vans bearing the Amazon logo.
Amazon has used autonomous technology to take orders from customers: self-propelled robots are shaking products through its warehouses, and a cooler six-wheeled robot has delivered orders to a Seattle suburb. It is also working on self-propelled drones that fly small goods to customers’ homes.
The deal is another sign of Amazon’s huge ambitions. Founded as an online bookseller 25 years ago, the company has transitioned to cloud computing, healthcare, and running a supermarket chain.
Krisher reported from Detroit.
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