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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Instead of trying to design fully automated vehicles from scratch, the way forward might be to adapt limited technologies that have already proven themselves in specific settings, and gradually add capability.

Why it matters: Adapting new technology from successful use-cases where safety is paramount, like in mining, could assuage public concerns about AVs, and accelerate AV development and production.

How it works: AV development and production could be rooted in successful deployment in constrained environments and then scaled up from there.

  • For example, AVs are already used in limited defense applications, in mines, and in factories.
  • Next they could be scaled up for closed circuits in retirement community and long haul trucking circuits.
  • Eventually they could be highway-ready, and finally, there could be self-driving passenger vehicles suitable for all roads.

What's happening: Some of the first milestones of autonomy have already been achieved, like geo-fenced, low-speed autonomous driving, automatic emergency braking, and repetitive tasks in mining.

  • In the heavy equipment industries, such as mining and construction, it's common to use AVs for repetitive tasks like moving material from one destination to another.
  • Autonomous drones used to monitor construction projects, handle land surveys, and watch over resource management have crossover applications in business services such as delivery, agriculture, and security.
  • May mobility is currently looking at use cases and testing in controlled environments, like a shuttle service in Rhode Island.

Flashback: Public expectations for passenger-ready, fully autonomous vehicles don't have a strong historical analogy.

  • While smartphones come with fewer safety concerns, they followed a common pattern. The first smartphones did enough advanced tasks well enough to gain popularity. Then, as updates to software and hardware improved performance, gradually became "the hub of everything [people] do online."

The bottom line: The best way to ensure that autonomous vehicle technology is passenger-ready before it goes into production may be to continue improving incrementally.

Bibhrajit Halder is the CEO of SafeAI, an AV technology startup focused on industrial AVs. He is also a member of GLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.