In the scorching heat of Tampa's Lee Roy Selmon Expressway Audi engineers recently tested its 'Piloted Driving' system that enables a driver in slow moving traffic on a highway to press a button on the steering wheel to let the car take over, freeing the human driver to check emails, make a phone call or send a text at speeds up to 40 mph.

Sue Chrzan, communications director for the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority experienced it first-hand and, apparently, is sold on the technology.

"I was in the car when the engineer took his hands off the wheel and his feet off the gas pedal," she said. "I was pretty amazed. The car stayed in its lanes better than 99 percent of the drivers out there." 

The feature is expected to take some of the grind out of the most tedious driving conditions, as well as improve safety, Howard Altman of the Tampa Tribune reports.

To make that happen, Audi has bundled several sensory technologies from existing vehicles — like those assisting drivers to stay in their lanes and avoid blind spots — with newer equipment, says Brad Stertz, communications director for Audi of America. The demonstration vehicle has between 17 and 20 sensors using radar, sonar and lidar — a laser-based remote sensing technology. Working with cameras, the system, developed in Germany, “makes millions and billions of decisions every minute,” Stertz said.

It will still be about five years before the system as tested will hit the showrooms, says Stertz, adding that he expects it to ultimately cost a little more than the current Audi sensor packages that run upwards of $10,000.

But you will have to wait another couple of decades for a car that really drives itself, he says.

Aside from technological hurdles, there are potential regulatory roadblocks as well.

While states regulate drivers, the federal government regulates vehicles.

“Who will regulate a driverless car?” Stertz asks.

The Selmon Expressway was selected as a test site because of its certification as a testing ground for the new technology, says Stertz.

Aside from testing the technology on realistic traffic conditions, engineers wanted to test another factor.

“We wanted to see how it works in the heat,” he says.

Florida is among a handful of states receptive to the technology, and this test will “call attention to the way Florida is approaching its laws dealing with this new frontier,” Stertz says. Florida’s stand on automated vehicles is “progressive compared to the way other states are handling this type of technology.”