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Interior of a Yandex driverless taxi. Photo: Yegor Aleyev/TASS via Getty Images

As recent reports about the technical and social challenges of self-driving cars make clear, we are still in the teenage years of autonomy. Even Waymo — with more than 10 million miles of autonomous driving data and undoubtedly the biggest head start — has acknowledged that level-5 autonomy is decades away.

Yes, but: Excessive focus on the distant self-driving future obscures how the same types of technology that will make it possible, such as computer vision and machine learning, are already improving road safety today.

Of the AV industry’s early breakthroughs, many have involved testing along fixed routes and in optimal weather conditions. But to achieve 99.9% reliability, it's estimated that autonomous driving systems will need 200 billion miles of autonomous driving data, accumulated in a variety of speeds, weather conditions and levels of traffic density. Developers are still a ways from reaching that point.

Even still, key safety technologies are already improving safety and laying the groundwork for full autonomy:

  • Computer vision can gauge driver attention for handoff challenges with assisted driving systems.
  • Advancements in edge computing enable software-powered devices to collect, process and analyze data locally, without resorting to the cloud. Algorithms running on the device can perform critical functions, such as detecting driver distraction and other risks.
  • AI and deep learning technologies can assess road conditions, other road users and driver behavior, all of which can be used to power in-vehicle safety alerts.
  • It's still early for industry-wide data, but Nauto saw an average 54% drop in distraction among drivers during real-time interventions pilot program.

What's next: As roads come to host a combination of human-driven vehicles, assisted driving technology and first-wave AVs, understanding human driving behavior will be critical to ensuring that future vehicles with more advanced autonomy are equipped to handle the hybrid environment.

Jennifer Haroon is the COO of Nauto, an AI technology company.

Go deeper

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.

The Supreme Court's abortion showdown arrives

Protesters gather at the Supreme Court during arguments about the Texas abortion law Nov. 1. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Supreme Court will debate today whether to overturn Roe v. Wade, and neither side is trying to lower the stakes — or to make today’s case anything less than a referendum on Roe’s very survival.

The big picture: Conventional wisdom, on both the left and right, says the court is likely to chip away at abortion rights without overturning its precedents outright. But neither side has spent much time trying to help the justices thread that needle.

Massage, facial, pedicure... intravenous drip?

A salon on the Upper East Side of New York that offers IV drip therapies. Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios

IV drips — the kind you might get if you're rushed to the hospital — are trending as a spa treatment, thanks in part to endorsements by celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Madonna.

Why it matters: Like other "wellness" trends with a whiff of medical imprimatur, IV nutrient drips can be harmless or mildly restorative — or go awry, particularly in the wrong hands.

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