Amazon acquires self-driving startup that employs former Apple Car workers [Updated]


Amazon buys self-driving car startup Zoox
More than a dozen Zoox employees worked on the Apple Car project before it was scaled back.
Photo: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory/Flickr CC

Amazon is buying Zoox, a self-driving car startup that employs at least 17 people who previously worked on Apple’s Project Titan.

The Information first reported the purchase of Zoox, and Amazon confirmed it Friday in a blog post. The deal could set Amazon back upward of $1 billion.

“Zoox is working to imagine, invent, and design a world-class autonomous ride-hailing experience,” said Amazon exec Jeff Wilke in a press release. “Like Amazon, Zoox is passionate about innovation and about its customers, and we’re excited to help the talented Zoox team to bring their vision to reality in the years ahead.”

Zoox, an early entrant into the autonomous car market, was expected to show off its self-driving prototype sometime this year. However, this has reportedly been pushed back due to software problems. In all, Zoox employs around 1,000 people.

This would be Amazon’s second self-driving vehicle acquisition. It previously bought self-driving truck company Aurora Innovation.

Amazon’s (possible) purchase has Apple Car engineers on its books

Zoox’s ex-Apple hires include Paul Choin, a former product designer and engineer who worked at Apple from 2015 to 2017. He was named on a previous Apple Car patent, describing a special car suspension system Apple developed.

Others include Bruce Baumgartner, VP of procurement and strategic partnerships at Zoox, who previously worked in strategic commodity procurement at Apple for three years. Then there is mechanical engineer Silas Wilkinson, who worked as an optomechanical engineer for two years at Apple; software engineer Zach Church, who worked at Apple for nearly five years, and others.

Many of these people split from Apple around the time the company scaled back its secretive Project Titan. Bloomberg reported on the Apple employees leaving to head Zoox in 2017. At the time, Cult of Mac wrote: “The exodus could be yet another sign that Apple is scaling back its automotive ambitions after the company originally planned to build its own car from the ground up.”

Since then, Apple has continued work on autonomous vehicles. In July 2019, Apple hired high-profile Tesla executive Steve MacManus to join the team. MacManus served as Tesla’s vice president of engineering from 2015 until 2019. However, it’s no longer clear whether Apple is looking to build its own vehicle. Instead, it may just be developing a software platform.