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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Some carmakers and tech companies say they're preparing to deliver self-driving cars to consumers within just a few years, a fresh promise that makes it seem like 2016 again. But beware the hype.

Why it matters: Your car might be capable of driving itself in the not-too-distant future, but only under certain conditions, like favorable weather or within certain geographic limits. And the timetable is squishy at best.

  • Safety experts fear that the companies' pronouncements could build unrealistic expectations or — worse — prompt consumers to leave too much of the driving to their automobiles.

Driving the news: Up until now, the industry has been working mostly on robotaxis and self-driving trucks for commercial service. But at the annual Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas, three companies teased plans for when your own car might be able to drive itself.

What to watch: Details for each are sparse, but experts say the automated highway driving system Volvo described this week, Ride Pilot, is likely what we can expect from others as well.

  • Ride Pilot will go beyond current driver-assistance systems like GM's SuperCruise or even Tesla's (mislabeled) "full self-driving" (FSD) beta technology, which require drivers to pay attention.
  • That means drivers will be able to relax, read a book or work while the car handles the driving on certain stretches of highway.
  • Volvo, and not the human driver, will be responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle when the system is engaged.

Volvo says it plans to introduce Ride Pilot in California "once it has been verified as safe for use." The carmaker has applied for an autonomous test permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and will begin testing there in mid-2022.

  • The hardware and software (from Luminar and Zenseact) will come standard on Volvo's next-generation electric SUV, launching in 2023, but Ride Pilot won't be functional initially.
  • "We're not going to turn it on until we know that it's safe," Odgard Andersson, CEO of Zenseact, tells Axios.

The bottom line: Customers should expect to pay a premium for an automated driving subscription, based on the escalating price of Tesla's FSD system, which promises full self-driving capability — some day.

  • "There's a clear market for it," Mike Ramsey, transportation and mobility analyst at Gartner, tells Axios.
  • "If Tesla is shaking people down for $10,000, and now $12,000, for a feature that only sort of works, clearly other companies can do it too."

Go deeper

Jan 11, 2022 - Economy & Business

Your Tesla could drive like a jerk

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tesla's latest assisted-driving software lets car owners decide how aggressively they want their car to behave in traffic — even to the point of bending rules.

What's happening: The latest release of Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" (FSD) beta software lets owners choose among three driving profiles — Chill, Average or Assertive — that dictate how the car will behave in different scenarios, The Verge reports.

Updated 5 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker