Striving to Set the Bar in Autonomous Mobility

An Interview with Mark Rosekind, Chief Safety Innovation Officer at Zoox

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D., Chief Safety Innovation Officer at Zoox, is a preeminent safety professional with more than 30 years of experience promoting innovation through science and leadership in complex environments. Mark joined Zoox after seven years of public service in Washington, D.C. where he served as Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a Board Member on the National Transportation Safety Board. Mark leads Zoox efforts to safely develop, test, and deploy autonomous vehicles to enhance safety, mobility, and sustainability.

Zoox is transforming mobility-as-a-service by developing a fully autonomous, purpose-built fleet that is designed for AI to drive and humans to enjoy. Zoox is taking a thoughtful approach to bring autonomous vehicles to market, to safely drive and interact with the public and other road users. At Zoox, safety is foundational and is built into everything they do, from testing and validation, to vehicle design and A.I., and the surrounding ecosystem.

Mark is a keynote speaker at the upcoming annual World Safety Summit on Autonomous Technology.  We connected with Mark to hear about the Zoox strategy to create proactive safety for autonomous vehicles and learn what he will be covering in his summit keynote.

VL: With its autonomous mobility platform, Zoox seeks to shift the driving safety paradigm from reactive to proactive safety. What needs to be done to make this shift to a “prevent and protect” approach?

Mark Rosekind: Autonomous vehicles represent perhaps the single greatest opportunity in roadway safety in the last 100 years. This includes the 1966 Motor Vehicle Safety Act that created NHTSA and gave way to safety innovations like seatbelts, airbags, and crash tests. However, safety efforts have focused on after-the-fact, reactive measures intended to address the outcomes of crashes after they have occurred. The number of deaths and injuries that still occur on our roads every day shows that this reactive approach to safety falls far short in protecting the public. Along with autonomous mobility, we need an innovative and proactive safety approach that leverages best practices from multiple industries, including aviation, healthcare, and industrial applications.

The Zoox safety innovation strategy is to ‘Prevent and Protect’. Our prevention approach works by analyzing potential safety risks our vehicles will encounter and proactively mitigating them. The ultimate proactive safety strategy is to prevent incidents from occurring in the first place. Further safety is provided in our vehicles through traditional protection tools – that is, minimizing the outcomes if a crash were to occur.

VL: In creating a proactive safety strategy, what can autonomous vehicle companies learn from other industries such as aviation, healthcare, and industrial applications?

Rosekind:  In the last decade, there has been only one commercial aviation fatality in the United States. On the other hand, there have been over 350,000 fatalities during this same time period on U.S. roadways. This is an unacceptable outcome, and this is what drives our work at Zoox.

While the advent of autonomous technology represents the biggest opportunity to improve the safety of surface transportation since the introduction of the automobile 100 years ago, there are learnings the industry can leverage from related industries, such as aviation, healthcare, and industrial applications. These learnings include joint education efforts, robust safety data-sharing, and increased communication.

VL: How can autonomous vehicle companies do a better job in sharing their knowledge about safety?

Rosekind:   Cities are getting increasingly more crowded, polluted, and congested; autonomous technology has the ability to solve problems around safety, mobility, and sustainability for cities, As industry look towards the future, innovators and policymakers must work together to share ideas, data, and information so that the safety, mobility, and sustainability benefits of this technology can reach as many people as possible. This includes autonomous vehicle companies, policymakers, first responders, community leaders, and advocacy groups.

Earlier this year, I helped launch PAVE, Partners for Automated Vehicles Education. PAVE is a coalition of AV companies, nonprofits, and academic institutions. The purpose of this group is to inform the public, policymakers, and media about automated vehicles and their potential so everyone can fully participate in shaping the future of transportation.

VL: Late last year, Zoox published Version 1.0 of a report series on the company’s plan for safety in autonomous mobility. How important will transparency about autonomous vehicle safety be in gaining public trust?

Rosekind: Our Safety Innovation at Zoox report released in December 2018, outlined how we aspire to set the bar for safety in autonomous mobility. Zoox believes that transparency around the autonomous vehicle software & hardware, base vehicle, and mobility service safety is critical for public trust and acceptance of this technology.

Future versions of our reports will provide further details of our approach and specific safety innovations as we deploy our fully autonomous mobility service in the coming years.

VL: Can you share with our readers a preview on what you plan to discuss in your keynote at the World Safety Summit?

Rosekind:  I joined Zoox just over two years ago because of the incredible safety opportunity offered by new technology. For perspective on this safety opportunity, in 2018, here in the U.S., we lost 36,750 people on our public roads. This is not just a number. Every one of these is a father, a mother, a son or daughter, a coworker, a friend. This represents an average of 100 people dying every single day on our roads. It should be completely unacceptable to all of us that we pay such a high price for our current mobility. 

My presentation will focus on how to achieve the safety opportunities available with autonomous mobility technology. Various crash investigations and insights over the past two decades will inform lessons learned. Finally, a path forward will be laid out, which will explore how safety innovation should drive effective regulations.

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