WHEN STEVE MAHAN was a kid in the 1960s, his mother would sometimes wake him in the early hours of the morning to watch the hours of television coverage preceding the launch of the Mercury space missions. "We would hear about all of the preparations, all of the technology, everything that led up to these moments," Mahan says. "And then we would count down 'till you finally got to zero and ignition, and one of those rockets begins bellowing fire and smoke, and slowly begins to creep away from the grapples. Then your thoughts always turn to the man in the capsule who's being shot off into space."

Now 63 and having lost his sight, Mahan has become one of those capsule-bound explorers. In October 2015, he became the first member of the public to ride in Google's self-driving pod-like prototype, alone and on public roads. No steering wheel, no pedals, no human on board to step in should something go wrong.

Google engineers say that Mahan's uneventful, ten-minute jaunt around Austin, Texas—which they talked about publicly for the first time today—was a key milestone on the road to the news they're now announcing.

After eight years and 2 million miles, the tech giant is taking its self-driving car project out of X, its division dedicated to moonshots like internet-slinging balloons and delivery drones.

Starting today, the drive for autonomy is called Waymo, a standalone company under the Alphabet corporate umbrella. And that means it's time to take the technology to market.

"We're a self-driving car company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to get around," says Waymo CEO John Krafcik. What that means, exactly, is still an open question: Krafcik mentioned ridesharing, trucking, logistics, even selling personal use vehicles to individual consumers.

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