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Zoox hires former head of NHTSA, plans a service to rival Uber

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【Summary】Silicon Valley autonomous car start-up Zoox Inc. recently announced it has hired Mark Rosekind, the former head of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to be its new chief safety innovation officer.

Eric Walz    Apr 18, 2017 1:19 PM PT
Zoox hires former head of NHTSA, plans a service to rival Uber

Silicon Valley autonomous car start-up Zoox Inc. recently announced it has hired Mark Rosekind, the former head of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to be its new chief safety innovation officer. The announcement was made public several weeks ago.

The company has kept a relatively low profile until last October at the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh PA, when the company co-founder Tim Kentley-Klay dropped a hint, "At Zoox what we're creating ... is not a self-driving car any more than the automobile is a horseless carriage. We're not building a robo-taxi service, we're actually creating an advanced mobility service," he said.

Zoox does not plan to sell cars directly to consumers, but instead plans to create a service to rival Uber. They haven't announced specific timetables for its release, but have referred to it as a "five-year vehicle development program." The race for self-driving cars is heating up in Silicon Valley, and Zoox is fetching a value of over $1.5 billion even before unveiling their first product.

In a recent Linkedin post Zoox wrote about their mission, "Sitting at the intersection of robotics, machine learning, and design, Zoox aims to provide the next generation of mobility-as-a-service in urban environments."

Industry analysts say the hiring of Mark Rosekind is a bold move by Zoox, and shows that the San Francisco Bay Area startup recognizes how big of a role regulation and safety will play in the future adoption of autonomous technology.

Former NHTSA head Mark Rosekind will lead efforts by Zoox to "safely develop, test and deploy autonomous vehicles."

Zoox envisions fleets of autonomous vehicles in urban centers, and has developed "a full-stack system comprising both hardware and software." Under Rosekind, the NHTSA previously issued voluntary guidelines for automakers and others in the self-driving space last September for the technology behind self-driving cars.

Safety First

Zoox says it is taking a different path in the race to build self-driving cars, it is preaching safety first. "There have been other startups that have been, in various ways, cavalier with safety," said Tim Kentley-Klay, Zoox's chief executive in a recent interview without naming any competitors. "That's not our culture. We take this very seriously. This appointment demonstrates that."

Growth

The startup was formed in 2014  by Jesse Levinson, a leader in Stanford University's Autonomous Driving Team who worked with Sebastian Thrun, co-creator of Google's driverless car project, and Tim Kentley-Klay, an Australian entrepreneur. The Menlo Park, California based startup has already hired more than 100 employees, including some from Tesla, Apple, and Google. In 2016, Zoox was granted a permit by the California DMV to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in California.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the company recently raised $50 million from Hong Kong-based hedge fund Composite Capital. This came just months after $200 million in funding raised at a $1.55 billion valuation. Zoox previously raised funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), Lux Capital, and Blackbird Ventures.

resource from: The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, Reuters

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