Self-driving startup Zoox has laid off its human safety drivers, at least for a while. With its test vehicles in California and Nevada idled by the coronavirus health crisis, the company sent an email Friday to contract workers, notifying them they would not be paid beyond Tuesday if they could not remotely work.
"The decision was not made lightly and is an unfortunate reflection of the difficult situation faced by many organizations in an uncertain economic climate," a Zoox spokesperson said.
The company did not say how many drivers are affected. Tech site The Verge, which first reported the developments, says approximately 120 contract workers are impacted.
Zoox has 58 autonomous vehicles registered to test on California roads, according to the state's DMV records. That's the fourth most of any company testing in California, behind Waymo, Cruise and Apple. The company expects its self-driving fleet will be grounded at least through May 3, by virtue of California's shelter-in-place guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once those expire, the company intends to bring its contract safety drivers back.
"Zoox continues to monitor the situation and intends to ramp back up to full operational status when the situation normalizes," the company spokesperson said.
Zoox runs a pilot project in Las Vegas. Nevada's stay-at-home directive runs through April 30.
In the self-driving realm, Zoox has been one of the more enigmatic and intriguing players. With nearly $1 billion in funding, according to Crunchbase records, Zoox has built and tested its own bespoke, bidirectional, zero-emissions electric vehicle.