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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Few changes in modern life will hit in more radical ways than how we get around.

Already, people are abandoning cars for ride-hailing and tooling around on electric scooters. Computer-assisted driving is giving way to prototype autonomous vehicles that share the road in some cities with pedestrians, bicyclists and traditional vehicles.

The big picture: The vision is that driverless cars will chauffeur you anywhere while you relax, work or socialize. The reality is that while 99% of routine driving skills have been relatively easy for robots to achieve, the last 1% haven't — and those are crucial for safety and consumer trust.

The allure of autonomous vehicles is that they're expected to cost less per mile, result in fewer traffic deaths and provide greater freedom to the elderly and disabled. When will they arrive? 10, 20, 50 years — experts debate the timing.

Execs are trying to lower expectations:

  • After promising a Tesla would drive itself across the country by the end of 2017, the company recently removed “full self-driving mode” from its pre-order options, with CEO Elon Musk admitting it confused consumers to offer a feature that wasn't ready yet.
  • Aurora Innovation, led by former execs from Google, Tesla and Uber, urged the industry to tone down its bullishness and “be more truthful about our capabilities,” reports the Washington Post.
  • Even the CEO of Waymo, which is getting ready to launch the nation's first commercial robo-taxi service in sections of Phoenix by year-end, says privately owned self-driving cars will take “longer than you think."
"Technologically speaking, there doesn't appear to be a showstopper out there. This is all about learning cycles now.”
— Larry Burns, author of "Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car — and How It Will Shape Our World"

What's holding back the industry: The technology requires more intensive testing and development to be able to predict how other cars will behave — and surpass humans at driving. Safety regulations need to catch up with technological innovation. And legal questions need answering, such as who is to blame if an AV causes an accident?

"We understand if we're going to deploy hundreds or thousands of automated vehicles, it has to work in every case."
— Sherif Marakby, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles

None of this has changed the minds of investors. They are pouring in cash, and company valuations are getting frothier.

"The $4 trillion disruption": That's how Burns, a former GM engineer and now Waymo adviser, describes what's happening. Here is how he crunches the numbers:

  • Americans travel more than 3 trillion miles a year.
  • The total cost of owning and operating a car is about $1.50 a mile.
  • Even with the added cost of AV technology, a driverless car costs only about 20 cents a mile.
  • A driver could save $5,625 a year using a shared driverless electric car instead of a privately owned vehicle.

The economic impact is likely to be large, but not immediate. Autonomous vehicles could add $800 billion to the U.S. economy by 2050 and create jobs that may, over time, replace those lost by truck drivers, according to Securing America's Future Energy.

Where it stands: Active safety technology in today's cars warns of unseen dangers, guides drivers back on course and helps them brake in emergencies. And studies show these systems are making us safer:

Unfortunately, those safety benefits are offset by a rise in distracted driving, which is why the quest toward fully autonomous cars continues.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

52 mins ago - World

In photos: Egypt unveils 3,000-year-old "lost golden city"

A view on Saturday of the city, dubbed "The Rise of Aten," dating to the reign of Amenhotep III, uncovered near Luxor. Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images

A top Egyptian archaeologist on Saturday outlined details of a newly rediscovered "lost golden city" near Luxor that dates back more than 3,000 years.

Why it matters: Zahi Hawass told NBC News the large ancient city, unveiled Thursday, tells archaeologists for the first time "about the life of the people during the Golden Age." Johns Hopkins University Egyptology professor Betsy Brian said in a statement it's "the second most important archeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamen."

1 dead as severe storms pummel the South

A tree that fell on a home carport damaged a vehicle during a storm in Central, Louisiana. No injuries were reported, according to Central Fire Department. Photo: Central Fire Department/Twitter

Strong storms lashed the South early Saturday, spawning at least one tornado and unleashing powerful winds and hail. And forecasters warned more severe weather was expected to hit parts of the region in the coming hours.

Details: Thousands of customers lost power in Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, according to tracking site poweroutage.us. An F3 tornado that hit St Landry Parish, Louisiana, killed one person and wounded seven others.

Scoop: Biden eyes Russia adviser criticized as soft on Kremlin

Photo: Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images

President Biden is considering appointing Matthew Rojansky, head of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, as Russia director on the National Security Council, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Why it matters: Rojansky has been praised for his scholarship on Russia and is frequently cited in U.S. media for his expert commentary. But his work has drawn criticism — including in a 2018 open letter from Ukrainian alumni of Kennan that blasted the think tank he runs as an "unwitting tool of Russia’s political interference."