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Audi

When Audi starts selling a pioneering self-driving car later this year, drivers will be able to watch the news on a built-in screen, send emails, and otherwise take their eyes safely off traffic-jammed freeways. What they won't do: drive in the city, or watch the car automatically veer around slower drivers.

We keep hearing that major carmakers and Silicon Valley are on the verge of selling fully autonomous cars. They aren't, as I saw yesterday on a test-drive of the Audi technology: Audi says it's setting the commercialization pace, but that full autonomy is years away from being safe enough for the market.

It's still cool: As Audi engineer Kaushik Raghu told me, being stuck in grinding freeway traffic, day after day, month after month, is one of the most soul-killing experiences for a lot of people. Those will be precious minutes saved from such teeth gnashing.

The massive push to self-driving is attracting much attention: It's roiling both the tech and carmaking worlds. On one hand, some industry experts say self-driving technology will produce a $7 trillion-a-year industry. But they also say some 7 million American jobs are at risk if commercial trucks and taxis become self-driving. The same will happen to jobs around the world.

But, unlike the drumbeat of assertions from Silicon Valley, Wall Street and analysts, the rollout will take a decade and probably longer.

  • Raghu told me that, as far as he knows, Audi will be first to commercialize "Level 3" self-driving technology. This is the middle point in the industry's five-level scale of autonomy, with Level 5 -- which currently does not exist -- being entirely hands-off, with no human intervention and probably even no steering wheel.
  • In a refreshingly modest account of the self-driving space, Raghu said that only in four or five years, the Audi A8 -- the first model from the carmaker that will feature Level 3 autonomy -- will change lanes by itself on the freeway. For now, the technology will be called "Traffic Jam Pilot." When the cars can operate in cities, the tech will be called "Urban pilot."

These cars will not be cheap. With an $82,500 baseline pricetag, the current A8 Audi is the automaker's highest-end car. And the company has not said how much it will cost outfitted with Traffic Jam Pilot, which will contain up to 20 expensive self-driving sensors.

A key takeaway: The Audi was a window into how carmakers are tackling the problem of safety -- they are borrowing from the aviation industry by building in redundant safety systems. The car in which I was driven contained three overlapping sensing systems -- Lidar, which is laser-driven 3D technology; radar; and a camera. Raghu said that the car only reacts when all three systems agree on what is being "seen."

Go deeper

53 mins ago - World

Zelensky questions U.S. warnings of "imminent" invasion in Biden call

Biden and Zelensky at the White House last October. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a back-and-forth in their call this evening about just how "imminent" the threat of a Russian invasion might be, according to three sources briefed on the call.

Why it matters: Biden has said previously that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will probably "move in" to Ukraine, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday afternoon that "an invasion could come at any time."

Democrats stiff Biden as poll numbers hit low point

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Democrats in swing states and vulnerable districts in this year's pivotal midterms are distancing themselves from President Biden on social media as his poll numbers hit their lowest point.

Why it matters: The digital distance is one sign of the concern candidates feel about a person they'd normally embrace. Incumbent presidents — including one who believes he needs to come to their hometowns to sell his message — would normally be political gold for candidates from the same party.

Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Tesla delays Cybertruck until 2023

Tesla debuts the Cybertruck in Hawthorne, Calif., on Nov. 21, 2019. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Tesla is at risk of falling behind on one of the most critical products in the American auto industry: pickups.

Why it matters: Pickups are the most profitable segment in the business and account for the first, second and third best-selling vehicles in the country. Without a serious pickup strategy, Tesla could miss out on a huge source of future income.

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