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

Biden to Trump: "I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life"

Former VP Joe Biden pushed back Thursday against allegations from President Trump, saying he had never profited from foreign sources. "Nothing was unethical," Biden told debate moderator Kristen Welker about his son Hunter's work in Ukraine while he was vice president.

Why it matters: Earlier on Thursday, Hunter Biden's former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, released a statement saying Joe Biden's claims that he never discussed overseas business dealings with his son were "false."

Trump claims COVID "will go away," Biden calls his response disqualifying

President Trump repeated baseless claims at the final presidential debate that the coronavirus "will go away" and that the U.S. is "rounding the turn," while Joe Biden argued that any president that has allowed 220,000 Americans to die on his watch should not be re-elected.

Why it matters: The U.S. is now averaging about 59,000 new coronavirus infections a day, and added another 73,000 cases on Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The country recorded 1,038 deaths due to the virus Thursday, the highest since late September.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Chris Christie: Wear a mask "or you may regret it — as I did" — Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted relief bill.
  2. Business: New state unemployment filings fall.
  3. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  4. Health: FDA approves Gilead's remdesivir as a coronavirus treatment How the pandemic might endMany U.S. deaths were avoidable.
  5. Education: Boston and Chicago send students back home for online learning.
  6. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!