On November 7, Waymo announced it would begin regularly testing fully driverless cars—without a safety driver—on public roads. It was a momentous announcement. A technology that had seemed like science fiction a decade earlier became a reality. And the announcement was greeted with a yawn by much of the media and the public—if they noticed at all.
Consider this December 7 article by Eric Adams, a writer for The Drive. Adams wrote that "Level 4 technology"—that is, a car like Waymo's that can operate with no driver in a geofenced area—"is legal to operate precisely nowhere in the world right now." In fact, Waymo had been operating its driverless fleet in Arizona with the tacit approval of Arizona regulators for several weeks by that point. The Motley Fool wrote on November 30 that "it's not yet clear how Waymo will bring its technology to market," even though Waymo had already announced that its first product would be a Phoenix-area taxi service.
To be fair, these writers are hardly alone. Most of the media treated Waymo's shift to fully driverless cars as a minor story. And conversations I've had with friends and relatives in recent weeks suggest that most people still consider driverless cars to be a technology that's coming some time in the future—not something that's already on public streets.