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Senior Zoox engineers rush to work for Waymo a week after Amazon acquisition

It's not off to a good start

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Last week, Amazon bought self-driving startup Zoox for over $1billion. Now, two of Zoox’s longest serving engineers have left to work for Alphabet subsidiary and rival, Waymo.

Last week, e-commerce giant Amazon bought self-driving startup Zoox with the intention of helping it “realize its dream.” But Amazon doesn’t really have any business in robotaxis, so it’s not immediately clear what the online retailer is wanting to get out of the deal. Some, including TNW, suggest that Amazon might eventually get Zoox to work on autonomous delivery robots. Whatever the case, though, things don’t seem to be off to a good start.

According to an exclusive from The Information, two of Zoox’s longest serving and most senior engineers, James Philbin and Marc Wimmershoff, have left the company to go and work for rival Waymo, which is a sister company of Google. They wasted no time either: official news of Amazon‘s acquisition dropped last Friday, by the following Monday they started at Waymo.

[Read: Amazon shelled out $1.2B for Zoox, but should stay away from robotaxis]

Wimmershoff, senior director of planning and control, and Philbin, senior director of perception and prediction, were at Zoox for around five years; bear in mind Zoox is only six years old. Most of the company’s autonomous driving software devs reported to the pair. In the short term, this is certainly going to throw a spanner in the works.

It’s not entirely clear what spurred Philbin and Wimmershoff to leave. It’s also not clear if Amazon was aware that this was going to happen so soon after acquisition. There is some speculation that early employees were offered some financial kick-backs as part of the Amazon takeover, presumably the pair got a bit of a payout and with the uncertainty of Amazon‘s involvement decided it was time to move somewhere with a little more certainty.

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Credit: Amazon - Photo by Jordan Stead
A sclae model of Amazon’s potential Rivian-powered delivery vehicle.

Indeed, it’s not at all clear what Amazon plans to do with Zoox. The e-commerce giant already has its own robotics division that develops its autonomous warehouse fulfillment bots, and Last year, it invested in electric vehicle startup Rivian. Amazon bought Zoox with the intention of helping it “realize its dream” of robotaxis.

For Amazon to start a robotaxi arm is a big leap for the company and one that won’t be that profitable. A far more realistic outcome is that Amazon will use its existing business units and Zoox’s expertise to develop sustainable autonomous delivery robots.

Published July 2, 2020 — 07:10 UTC

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