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Obama’s self-driving car regulator has joined one of the companies he regulated

Mark Rosekind, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is now at secretive self-driving startup Zoox as its chief safety innovation officer.

Mark Rosekind

Zoox, a stealth self-driving startup that has raised a total of $290 million and is valued at $1.5 billion, just added some legal brawn to its team. The company announced that it has hired Mark Rosekind, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as its first chief safety innovation officer.

Rosekind led NHTSA — the Department of Transportation entity that is in charge of federal vehicle regulations — as it grappled with finding a legal framework for the fast-moving self-driving industry and pushed forward a series of guidelines a few months before the end of his tenure. Now, he’ll be in charge of all things safety at Zoox — which has over 200 employees, according to a source familiar with the matter — as the startup develops and eventually deploys its autonomous vehicle technology.

Bringing on someone well versed in the inner workings of the DOT and NHTSA is a smart move for any company with ambitions to deploy autonomous vehicles. That’s especially true now that there’s a new administration at the helm of the department. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao said recently that she was reviewing the guidelines NHTSA enacted under Rosekind — and while she doesn’t want to impede the progress of the technology, she is also concerned about the resulting job losses.

"This administration is evaluating this guidance and will consult with you and other stakeholders as we update it and amend it, to ensure that it strikes the right balance,” Chao told the National Governors Association in February.

While automakers and tech companies working on autonomous technology were satisfied with the guidelines for the most part, many had concerns about the requirements to hand over data, arguing that it may reveal trade secrets and proprietary information. Companies were also concerned about states creating a patchwork of different sets of laws.

“We are thrilled that his unparalleled experience, insight and leadership will help ensure that our autonomous vehicle systems are developed, tested and deployed with best-in-class safety principles,” Zoox CEO Tim Kentley-Klay said in a statement.

The company has yet to set a clear timeline for when it will launch out of stealth.

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