Self-driving car startup now valued at $1.5B

Zoox is developing a driverless car as a type of ride-hailing service

Zoox The Boz

Zoox Labs, a two-year-old Silicon Valley company that like Alphabet and Apple is developing a self-driving car from the ground up, has scored another $50 million in funding, bringing its total to $240 million, according to published reports.

The latest round of funding for the Menlo Park, Calif., startup raises its market value to a staggering $1.55 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal, even before it has put a single vehicle on the road.

Zoox, which is currently in "stealth" mode, reportedly to keep competitors from learning what it's doing, has attracted high-profile executives from Alphabet, Apple and Tesla Motors who joined the company to help develop its vehicle.

Zoox The Boz Zoox

In the Zoox ride-sharing service vehicle -- The Boz -- passengers would face each other.

The company was founded by Australian animation designer Tim Kentley-Klay and Jesse Levinson, a Stanford University engineer working with the university's autonomous vehicle team. Levinson also worked with Sebastian Thrun, Alphabet's first self-driving car designer.

Zoox initially stated its driverless cars would be manufactured for ride-hailing services like Uber, according to IEEE Spectrum.

When the company was initially formed in 2013, it published computer renderings of its gullwing-door concept car "The Boz," a sports car that closely resembles video game vehicles from the movie Tron.

"At Zoox what we're creating ... is not a self-driving car any more than the automobile is a horseless carriage. We're not building a robo-taxi service, we're actually creating an advanced mobility service," Kentley-Klay said at the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh last month, according to the WSJ. "You can really think of it as Disneyland on the streets of perhaps San Francisco, and that means a vehicle which is smart enough to understand its environment but it's also importantly smart enough to understand you, where you need to be, what you want to do in the vehicle and how you want to move around the city."

IHS Automotive has predicted that by 2025 there will be 300,000 self-driving cars and just as many driverless vehicles on the road; by 2030, there will be 2.2 million self-driving and driverless cars on the road; and by 2035, there will be 11 million self-driving and 10 million driverless vehicles in operation.

As the auto industry races toward shipping fully autonomous vehicles, self-driving technology startups have become attractive acquisition targets for traditional automakers and others. For example, General Motors earlier this year, acquired three-year-old Cruise Automation for its deep software talent and rapid development capability -- a move designed to further accelerate the automaker's development of autonomous vehicle technology.

In July, ride-sharing service Uber acquired Otto, a maker of self-driving technology for delivery trucks.

Ford Motor Co. plans to begin mass producing a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021 that it will sell for ride-hailing markets such as Uber. Ford's vehicle will be manufactured with no steering wheel, gas or brake pedal. In other words, a driver will not be required.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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