When I first got my license 46 years ago, driving felt like one of the most important things in the world. On Tuesday, when a driverless car whisked me to work, it felt obsolete.
Google's grand experiment picked me up at home in West San Jose and ferried me to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Later other cars took me and numerous other media types on a 25-minute tour of city streets.
There were two Google workers along for each trip, but for the most part, there were no hands on the steering wheel.
Got that? No hands.
So relax and sip that cup of coffee. Or text your wife. Or finish that report on the laptop. Guilt-free.
Google's robotic cars start as standard vehicles but each packs about $150,000 in equipment, including a $70,000 radarlike Lidar system, with a laser on the roof and enough cameras and high-tech gizmos inside to make any Silicon Valley techie envious.
These devices allow the vehicle to generate a detailed 3-D map of its environment, based on maps Google has produced, and take pictures of its surroundings to detect cars, pedestrians, construction zones and other obstacles in its path.
"This is the best part of our job," said David Kram, the "driver" of the white Lexus 450 hybrid with the funny laser on the roof rotating 360 degrees 10 times per second. "It's really fun."
Fun, indeed, even from my back-seat perch. A little nerve-racking, too.
The car made a few abrupt moves into left-turn lanes. And once it shuddered at another turn when a nearby bus seemed to confuse the onboard computers.
"It's not perfection yet," said Google's Nick Munley, but he said it's safer than a car with a driver at the wheel.
Before every crosswalk, a voice much more pleasant than Siri's calmly alerted us to a "crosswalk ahead." Every pedestrian should love that.
And when traffic ahead slowed, we slowed. No tailgating allowed.
The future of driving is approaching at warp speed. Testing really began in 2009, a mere five years ago, and Google hopes these cars will be available to the public in six years. Others think it will be a decade.
But they are on our streets now, being tested in city traffic for the first time, after covering nearly 700,000 miles on highways, mostly in the Bay Area but also in Florida, Texas and Washington, D.C.
And how many accidents have occurred in which the driverless vehicle was at fault? One, Google says, with an asterisk.
"We actually haven't had any at-fault accidents while the car is in self-driving mode," said Google spokeswoman Katelin Jabbari. "The only at-fault accident was caused while a driver was in control."
Driving on streets is more complicated than on highways, and the majority of the nation's 33,000 annual traffic deaths occur on streets. About 91 percent of those deaths are the fault of motorists, and safety officials say driverless cars have the potential to prevent most of them.
Driverless cars could prevent "up to 30,000 fatalities a year, or 80 per day," said Larry Burns, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan and a Google consultant.
Some people need lessons in not being jerks around these cars. Google drivers say some yahoos have raced ahead of them, then veered suddenly into their path and slammed on their brakes to see if the driverless cars would stop.
Autonomous vehicles have the potential to provide increased mobility for the elderly and the disabled, like Steve Mahan, a South Bay blind man who was one of the first non-Googlers allowed to get behind the wheel of a driverless car. It took him for a spin around town, allowing him to run errands and even go to Taco Bell for a burrito, something he hasn't been able to do.
A simple thing, but not for someone who can't see.
Google officials repeatedly said their work is no longer a science project. It's the realization of a science fiction dream and an opportunity for technology to impact the lives of millions.
"We're growing more optimistic that we're heading toward an achievable goal -- a vehicle that operates fully without human intervention," Chris Urmson, director of the Google Self-Driving Car Project, wrote in a blog.
Human drivers would be expected to take control if the computer fails. The promise is that, eventually, there would be no need for a human fallback.
Are we ready? The cost right now is unknown, but initially it would be out of the reach of many, more than the $70,000 base price of a Tesla Model S.
But many are confident that eventually the cost will come down.
A few years ago, hybrids were a novelty, then electric cars. Now stepping up are driverless vehicles.
Myself, I have mixed emotions about the development. Let's cut to the chase: If we're all tooling around in driverless cars, are we still going to need Roadshow?
But you can't stop progress, especially if it can save thousands of lives and reduce traffic jams.
Pass the coffee, please.