Aug 18, 2021

Axios What's Next

A public service message from Axios What's Next: Please pay attention when you're driving, and hold the wheel when you are supposed to! Below, Joann Muller outlines some of the problems that might transpire if you get too lackadaisical.

  • And: Do you take pictures on your phone? (Yes, we know you do.) Pick a favorite shot and tell us why it fits our "What's Next" theme.
  • Send it to for your chance at 15 minutes of fame in this newsletter.
  • Today's winners — from the "dining and food" theme — are at the bottom.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 943 words ... 3.5 minutes.

1 big thing: Why drivers are zoning out behind the wheel

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you haven't bought a new car in a few years, you might be surprised at how many driving tasks are now automated — speed control, braking, lane-keeping and even changing lanes, Joann Muller writes.

Why it matters: Carmakers keep adding more automated features in the name of safety. But now authorities want to find out if assisted-driving technology itself is dangerous by making it too easy for people to misuse.

  • The more sophisticated the assisted-driving system, the more complacent drivers can become, abdicating their own responsibility for operating the car.
  • This can lead to avoidable crashes and dangerous incidents that could undermine public confidence in automated driving.
  • Even with the latest technology, drivers still need to watch where they're going and be prepared to take the wheel; fully autonomous vehicles are years from widespread deployment.

Context: Federal regulators have taken a mostly hands-off approach to automated vehicle technologies, offering only guidelines for fully driverless cars like robotaxis, which are under development and evolving.

  • Now the Biden administration is stepping up its scrutiny of assisted-driving systems available today, like Tesla's Autopilot.

What's happening: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said recently that companies must report serious crashes involving driver-assistance and automated-driving systems to authorities within a day of learning about them.

  • This week NHTSA opened a formal investigation into Tesla Autopilot after a series of crashes involving emergency vehicles.

Be smart: Tesla Autopilot is not an autonomous driving system. It is an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) that allows the car to maintain its speed and stay in its lane.

The bottom line: Authorities are reviewing not just whether assisted-diving technology works, but also its effects on human behavior.

Read the full story

2. Survey: Spiked seltzer is here to stay

Hard seltzer empties are scattered at an Easter party in New York's Central Park. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

A new survey of college students finds the hard seltzer trend isn't going away, Bryan Walsh writes.

The big picture: The shift among young adults toward spiked seltzers — and away from cheap beer — will prompt lasting changes in the alcohol industry.

By the numbers: After a pandemic boom, recent sales data indicates that interest in hard seltzer brands might be slowing, with the spiked seltzer maker Boston Beer warning in late June that earnings would come in below analyst forecasts.

Yes, but: No one has told college kids about that.

  • Axios received an early look at a new survey of college students' drinking preferences and brand perception from the polling and research firm Generation Lab.
  • Respondents were asked to rank 13 alcoholic brands — a mix of beers, wines and hard seltzer. The results show seltzer industry leader White Claw was seen as the coolest brand, while White Claw and its rival Truly were viewed as "on the rise."

The bottom line: While hard seltzer sales might level off — in part due to the reopening of bars — beer and hard liquor drinking trends for young people "are changing in a way that seems relatively permanent, and they're going to stay with seltzer," says Cyrus Beschloss, CEO of Generation Lab.

Read the full story

3. Consumers get comfortable with fully automated checkout
Expand chart
Data: Shekel Brainweigh/SurveyMonkey; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

At the CVS in my neighborhood, there's a shortage of cashiers, and customers are steered toward self-checkout machines — which are balky and require a human attendant for when they falter or people can't figure them out, writes Jennifer A. Kingson.

Why it matters: Those machines are growing more ubiquitous, as are fully automated stores, which use a variety of checkout technologies.

By the numbers: According to a poll by SurveyMonkey and Shekel Brainweigh — which makes digital weighing systems for retailers — 70% of people prefer a hybrid store that lets you choose between autonomous checkout and a human being.

4. Why you should be ordering holiday gifts now

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

It feels way too early to think about Christmas, but now is the time to check some gifts off your list, writes Linh Ta of Axios Des Moines.

Why it matters: The high demand for products over the holiday season is expected to further "clog" already backed-up shipping channels, said Jennifer Blackhurst, professor of business analytics at the University of Iowa.

  • Procrastinating means running the risk of not getting your presents on time.

State of play: Companies are expected to suffer from bottleneck supply and demand through 2021 as they scrounge for raw materials, shipping containers and labor, Blackhurst said.

  • Businesses can't keep things in inventory and everything from a Nintendo Switch to the latest toys are at risk.
  • "You can make the argument that shortages in shipping containers and shipping traffic in general is the worst it's ever been," Brittain Ladd, an executive with the engineering and logistics company PULSE Integration, told Axios' Bryan Walsh.

Plus: The Delta variant sweeping across the globe will further slow trade.

Read the full story

5. Reader photos

Outdoor dining at Morandi in the West Village in New York City. Photo: Michelle Edmunds

What's Next: Venues demand proof of vaccination

Michelle Edmunds writes: "We dined here tonight. It was the first time we were required to show proof of vaccination. They kindly apologized for the inconvenience.

"The restaurant was doing a brisk business with plenty of outdoor tables. I think this is the short-term future of dining in New York."

"Ghostly dining" is the title given to this photo by the reader who took it, Donna M. Biolsi.

What's Next: Staff shortages suffocate restaurants

Donna M. Biolsi writes: "Almost or already there: Restaurants or bars killed or barely breathing by lacking staff during COVID.

"This picture was shot soon after the lockdown at a long-established Italian restaurant/tavern/sports bar in metro N.J. This table, opposite our booth, remained empty as shown during our entire meal.  

"I shot it thinking about how the restaurant industry could ever recover from the pandemic and its related economy. They fail at a high rate during good times. Scary, I know. 

"Will what’s next be takeout only? Zoom Bar sessions?  

"BTW: As we were getting ready to leave, a harried-looking water stopped to take a swig!"

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