Google makes money by selling more ads to more people, right? We have to filter everything the company does through that lens. Driverless cars don't seem to fit into that mold, but Google has been testing them on the roads for years. Here's where that particular projected is headed. Google is planning to build a taxi service, powered by ads, out of its self-driving automobile fleet. At least that's what it looks like according to this patent they were recently awarded.
Here's how it works: advertisers can purchase a trip in Google's automated cars for their customers. If you want to go out to eat and your restaurant of choice has the option, they can send a Google car to come pick you up. Companies will actually be able to advertise these free rides on your smartphone and via freestanding kiosks strategically placed around town. The system is based on a customer's preferences, which Google knows from collecting data about that customer. The system is also based on how much a company is willing to pay, much like the ad-bidding system that Google has in place for its current services. The ride itself may be free, or it may be discounted. This is all based on Google algorithms that use the cost of the transportation, the customer's location, and the profit the company might make to come to a decision. Taxis, trains, buses, and driverless vehicles are all part of the plan.
The ads themselves will pop up when Google senses you are near a predetermined location, using your phone's GPS. The other option in a kiosk in a public area, users will be able to walk up and select from the rides available from businesses in the area. Ads will be highly targeted and users may be asked to sign in to the kiosk in order to proceed. You'll have to be sure to log out, of course. Users will be able to also provide details like how many other passengers may be catching a ride with them, according to the patent. If you want to go to a restaurant with your significant other, both of you can catch a ride to the eating establishment of your choice, with the restaurants bidding with each other for the coveted ad time.
Overall, this seems like a solid system. Especially in bigger cities that have extensive public transportation and fewer personal vehicles, like New York or San Francisco, this could be a big benefit to customers. Of course, we'll be trading more data about ourselves to Google in exchange for the free or discounted ride to our destination. Some people won't be comfortable with Google knowing when you are home are when you are not, similar to the privacy concerns surrounding Google's recent purchase of Nest. Although if you carry an Android phone or use Google apps on another mobile OS, they know your travel habits already. I'd be all for a free ride to a place where I was already planning to spend money. How about you?