Autonomous-Driving Startup Zoox Hires Ex-Intel Exec Aicha Evans as CEO

The California Public Utilities Commission granted Zoox a permit to participate in the Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot program.

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Autonomous-driving startup Zoox has selected a new CEO to replace co-founder and former CEO Tim Kentley-Klay, who was fired in August. Former Intel executive Aicha Evans will take the job effective February 28, Zoox announced in a press release.

"I'm thrilled to join Zoox and challenge the status quo with an autonomous mobility system built from the ground up," Evans said. "Mobility is approaching a major inflection point, and Zoox has set itself apart from entrenched players as the only company creating a solution purpose-built to meet the needs of a fully-autonomous future. I look forward to helping the company's exceptionally talented team continue to grow as we unlock more technical and commercial milestones."

Evans comes to Zoox after 12 years at Intel, where she most recently served as Chief Strategy Officer. Prior to that, she was general manager of Intel's Communication and Devices Group, where she ran a 7,000-person engineering team, according to Zoox.

Founded in 2014, Zoox hopes to launch a ride-hailing service using purpose-built autonomous electric cars. So far though, the startup has only built a handful of test mules. It also uses modified Toyota Highlander crossovers for on-road testing and demonstrations, which included shuttling dignitaries around San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit in September 2018. Zoox is based in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Foster City, California, and claims to have more than 700 employees.

Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) granted Zoox a permit to participate in the state's Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot program. This will allow Zoox to carry passengers in its self-driving cars, as long as certain conditions are met. A human safety driver must be behind the wheel at all times, for example, and Zoox won't be allowed to charge passengers for rides. The startup must also report regularly to the CPUC on its operations.

Zoox is one of many startups and larger companies that believe self-driving cars and ride-hailing will make the ultimate combination. Waymo launched its autonomous ride-hailing service in Arizona last month. Lyft riders in Las Vegas can hail an Aptiv self-driving car, while rides in Boston can hail a car operated by NuTonomy. Autonomous driving has gone from futuristic technology to competitive business in just a few years. Smaller startups like Zoox could get squeezed out.