Zoox Slinks into VC Jungle with $200 Million

Burney Simpson

Autonomous car upstart Zoox has raised $200 million from three investors in a venture round. The three are Shahin Farshchi, Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), and Lux Capital, according to CrunchBase.

Zoox is “a robotics company pioneering autonomous mobility. We are developing our own fully autonomous electric vehicle and the supporting ecosystem required to bring the technology to market at scale,” according to a LinkedIn write up by board member Laurie Yoler.

Zoox is led by Australian designer and film-maker Tim Kentley-Klay and Jesse Levinson, a Stanford University engineer who worked with Sebastian Thrun, first director of Google’s self-driving car program.

Zoox’s first public model was a futuristic roadster-style vehicle that predated the driverless car that Mercedes rolled out to massive attention at CES 2015. The Boz was bi-directional with no front or back, and had no windshield, steering wheel, or brake pedal, according to Electric Vehicle News.

Zoox appears to still be operating in a low-key manner. Its website is a single page with Zoox spelled out in gray against a black background. (Shades of ‘White Light/White Heat’). The two oo’s in Zoox are connected like an infinity symbol. Hovering over Zoox displays ‘’.

This has been an eventful year for Zoox. California in March gave it a permit to test its cars on state roads, and in the spring it was on a hiring spree, bringing in managers from Tesla (See “Zoox Recruits from Tesla, with Live Tests Coming”). Meanwhile, longtime Silicon Valley investor and Tesla founding board member Yoler joined the board.


DFJ is an influential Silicon Valley investor.

Farshchi is a Lux partner though he also makes an occasional personal investment. He is said to have a technical background with GM.

New York- and Silicon Valley-based Lux invests in “counter-conventional, seed and early stage sci-tech ventures,” says CrunchBase.


Zoox Recruits from Tesla with Live Tests Coming

Burney Simpson

Driverless car creator Zoox is bringing in staff from Tesla as it celebrates being approved for live testing of its driverless car on California roads by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Zoox is the 12th firm approved by the regulator.

Zoox seeks to revolutionize the transportation service industry, not invent a new type of automobile, according to an April 2014 interview with co-founder Tim Kentley-Klay by Driverless Transportation (See “Catching Up with Zoox”).

That fits with a current company description posted on a LinkedIn site of new board member Laurie Yoler. She has an extensive history with Tesla and joined the Zoox board in December.

According to Yoler’s write up, Zoox is:

“a robotics company pioneering autonomous mobility. We are developing our own fully autonomous electric vehicle and the supporting ecosystem required to bring the technology to market at scale. … Zoox aims to provide the next generation of mobility-as-a-service in urban environments. The company is venture backed and presently in stealth mode.”

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is growing in the autonomous vehicle space as car-sharing, ride-sharing firms like Uber, Lyft, and Car2Go expand. MaaS could become a combination of publicly- and privately-owned transportation services provided on a subscription basis. Some say MaaS could replace private vehicle ownership for many consumers.

According to press reports Zoox was founded by Kentley-Klay, an Australian film director and designer, and Jesse Levinson, a Stanford University engineer who worked with Sebastian Thrun, the first director of Google’s self-driving car program.


Zoox offers a virtually empty website. Its street address is the same as that of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory that sits on the Stanford University campus. Stanford operates SLAC for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

zoox4Yoler is a venture capital investor and a founding board member of Tesla, serving in various roles with the electric vehicle OEM from 2003 to 2013.

Zoox appears to be recruiting others from Tesla which last year launched ‘Autopilot’, an over-the-air software update that gave many of its vehicles semi-autonomous capabilities.

Current Zoox staff with a Tesla background include its Head of Talent, the Director of Manufacturing and Supply Chain, and a talent and marketing staffer, according to LinkedIn postings.

Zoox may also have connections with the influential Silicon Valley venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Yoler was with DFJ when it backed Tesla.

By some reports Zoox is backed by DFJ though the VC firm’s website doesn’t list it in its current portfolio of companies.


Zoox’s first public model was a futuristic roadster-style vehicle that predated the driverless car that Mercedes rolled out to massive attention at CES 2015. That Zoox model had no front or back, no windshield, no steering wheel, no brake pedal.

In a 2013 video from Drive the Nation, Kentley-Klay discusses his design concept that offered four independent control systems centered on the wheels, and four seats that faced each other.

At one point, the vehicle was called the L4, a nod to the Level 4 fully autonomous vehicle as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The goal was a 2020 launch.

Kentley-Klay’s website provides insight on his view towards autonomous vehicles, along with photos of his visiting the Google campus to meet Anthony Levandowski, at one time the leader of Google’s autonomous efforts.

Self-Driving Vehicles, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, and Autonomous Driving Features: Global Market Analysis and Forecasts

Market Watch


Catching Up with zoox

Back in November 2013 at the LA auto show, zoox made a big splash with their announcement of plans to develop a fully autonomous, level 4 vehicle(1).The imagery was spectacular and many of the concepts were revolutionary. However, people questioned whether it was “visionary or vaporous“. We caught up with zoox CEO Tim Kentley-Klay about the work that they’ve been doing, including, how they got started, what they do now, and where they’re headed.


Getting its name from a type of plankton that live on the tentacles of polyps, zoox is rooted in the idea of symbiosis. The zoox plankton and the polyps share a symbiotic relationship: zoox provide oxygen to the polyps so they can grow, and the polyps provide a place for the zoox plankton to live. Tim expressed how this is the same type of relationship that should exist between man and machine: man and machine must work together to create efficiencies. Driverless transportation is a way to make the world a more efficient and mobile place. Tim is focused on the idea of mobotics: robotics specialized in the art of mobility.

Since the inception of the company, Tim’s concept hasn’t been to make money or compete with other companies, but to make life more fun and livable. He expressed that he felt that there was a lack of vision in the industry, with technology limited to ground-up thinking, and car manufacturers trying to solve the problem from an engineering perspective. At zoox, their goal is to change the way we view the technology we have, and to introduce new technology to revolutionize the driving experience. Tim believes that zoox are in the right place at the right time, and understand the benefits autonomy can deliver.


At the moment, zoox is focused on furthering their vision. The team is currently a group of three, but they hope to expand. The team is looking for partners, doing a lot of traveling searching for others who share their dream, and looking for artists to work on concept designing and prototyping. Tim told us that they will update the website in this quarter to reveal a new team. They are overwhelmed by the amount of interest they have received from people who are interested in joining, such that they can hardly get to all of the emails between the three of them! They have been able to speak to many organizations within the industry, including Google, MIT, Freie University in Berlin, Mercedes, and many others including many of the participants from the DARPA challenges.

It’s important to understand, however, that zoox is not an automaker. They’re looking at things differently than the automobile companies. They’re a group that’s trying to come up with a new paradigm for transportation, and that’s where the idea of mobotics comes in. If you’re looking at this venture as providing a new type of automobile, Tim says, then you’re missing the point. What zoox wants to do is view the transportation service industry in a new way, and that’s how we can really change the world.

If you’re interested in the work that zoox does, visit their website at You can also hear Tim speak Friday, April 11, at the Autonomous Vehicle conference in Santa Clara, California.


(1) The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines a Level 4 as a full self-driving automation: the vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip.



Videos Page

We’ve added a new page to the site for Videos on  We have generally concentrated on videos from the last three months, however we did start the page with three videos that we think are key to the history of Driverless Transportation.  These are:

  • Sebastian Thrun’s Ted talk where he discusses what drove him to driverless cars.
  • Google’s Self-Driving Car Test with Steve Mahan.  This video shows some of the huge promise from this technology.
  • Chris Gerdes’ Ted talk where he talks about the autonomous racecar that is developing at Stanford.

The other videos range from a panel discussing self-driving cars at Stanford, to a discussion on the design and plans for Zoox to Audi’s keynote address at CES.

Check it out.  They are all very interesting.  If you have others we should be linking to, please let us know.

Prof. Rupert Stadler

Prof. Rupert Stadler, chairman of the board of management of Audi AG