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A Waymo self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan at its Castle testing grounds. Photo: Waymo

ATWATER, Calif. — For the past four years, Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving car unit, has been quietly testing its technology in a former air force base three hours away from San Francisco. On Monday, it invited several journalists to experience a fully driverless ride—albeit along a preset and highly practiced course—as well as observe some testing exercises and hear from some of the company's executives.

Why it matters: Self-driving cars are undoubtedly the future. But getting there is incredibly complex, even for companies like Waymo, that have sophisticated technology and lots of experience (i.e. 3.5 million autonomous miles under its belt). Monday's demonstrations showed all that promise, but also reinforced that a truly driverless future is still quite far away.

Driverless ride: Axios took a ride in a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan without a safety driver in the front seat at Waymo's testing facility, known as Castle.

  • Though the ride was smooth and demonstrated how the autonomous driving software can handle various turns and interactions with other cars and objects, it was along a preset route the car was programmed to follow, taking away some of the magic of autonomous driving.
  • Although the course was predetermined, a Waymo employee in the car said that the software would react in real-time should something unexpected happen along the route.

Business models:

Waymo has identified four applications for its technology: ride-hailing and ride-sharing, trucking, logistics, and working with cities for first and last-mile transportation to complement public transit.

  • Waymo said it will work with partners to get its technology deployed, but CEO John Krafchik offered little new in the way of specifics.
  • The company also declined to share more details about any plans to expand its Arizona ride-hailing test more broadly.

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Why it matters: Investors are facing a "three-headed monster," Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets, tells Axios — a worsening pandemic, an economic stimulus package in limbo, and an imminent election.

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How Biden might tackle the Iran deal

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Four more years of President Trump would almost certainly kill the Iran nuclear deal — but the election of Joe Biden wouldn’t necessarily save it.

The big picture: Rescuing the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is near the top of Biden's foreign policy priority list. He says he'd re-enter the deal once Iran returns to compliance, and use it as the basis on which to negotiate a broader and longer-lasting deal with Iran.

Kamala Harris, the new left's insider

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images     

Progressive leaders see Sen. Kamala Harris, if she's elected vice president, as their conduit to a post-Biden Democratic Party where the power will be in younger, more diverse and more liberal hands.

  • Why it matters: The party's rising left sees Harris as the best hope for penetrating Joe Biden's older, largely white inner circle.

If Biden wins, Harris will become the first woman, first Black American and first Indian American to serve as a U.S. vice president — and would instantly be seen as the first in line for the presidency should Biden decide against seeking a second term.