Zoox, the self-driving car unit under the umbrella of Amazon.com (AMZN.O), is stepping up its game in the autonomous vehicle race. In a bid to keep pace with competitors like Waymo, Zoox announced plans to expand its testing grounds in California and Nevada. This expansion includes a wider area coverage, increased speeds, and the addition of nighttime driving capabilities.

The company, known for its distinctive toaster oven-like vehicles devoid of manual controls such as steering wheels and pedals, is pushing the boundaries of its technology. Zoox aims to allow its specially designed vehicles to operate at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour (72 kph), an upgrade from the previous limit of 35 mph. Moreover, the testing area in Las Vegas is being expanded from one mile to five miles, exposing the vehicles to busier traffic conditions than ever before.

Zoox’s decision to include nighttime driving and light rain conditions in its testing regime underscores the importance of gathering comprehensive data for its autonomous driving system. Like its competitors, Zoox envisions a future where human drivers are replaced by fully autonomous vehicles, which are perceived to be safer and more reliable due to their immunity to human error.

However, the road to fully autonomous vehicles is not without its challenges. General Motors’ Cruise faced setbacks last year when testing of its robotaxis was halted following allegations of withholding evidence related to an accident in San Francisco.

Zoox’s parent company, Amazon, acquired the startup in 2020 for over US$1 billion, fuelling speculation about potential applications beyond ride-hailing. While there have been no official announcements regarding Amazon’s plans for Zoox’s technology, the possibility of leveraging autonomous vehicles for delivery services remains tantalising.

As Zoox continues to push the boundaries of autonomous driving technology, the race towards a driverless future intensifies, with each development bringing us closer to a transportation landscape dominated by self-driving vehicles.