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The Almighty Buck Businesses Google Patents Transportation

Should Self-Driving Cars Chauffeur Shopping 'Whales' For Free? 213

Posted by timothy
from the let's-go-on-a-comping-trip dept.
theodp writes "Probably not the most fortuitous timing, but the USPTO has granted Google its wish for a patent on Transportation-Aware Physical Advertising Conversions, a system that arranges for free or discounted transportation to an advertiser's business location that will be more or less convenient based upon how profitable a customer is deemed. It's reminiscent of the free personal chauffeured limousine rides long enjoyed by Las Vegas casino 'whales', but at scale and using cars that may not have drivers. A server, Google explains, 'arranges the selected transportation option, for example, by dispatching a vehicle or providing instructions for using public transportation.' So, it seems a Larry or Sergey type might expect to be taken gratis to the Tesla dealership via a private autonomous car or even helicopter, while others may get a discount on a SF Muni bus ride to Safeway. Google also describes how advertisers will be able to use a customer's profile 'to exclude a customer from being considered for an offer based on exclusion criteria identified by a business,' such as age, job title, purchasing history, clothing size, or other 'desirable' characteristics."
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Should Self-Driving Cars Chauffeur Shopping 'Whales' For Free?

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  • by sideslash (1865434) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @07:08PM (#46051697)
    Like race, perhaps? Even if it works out to race by other proxy characteristics, this has a lot of potential to blow up in the merchants' faces.
    • I'm pretty sure that at least in the U.S., deciding whether to give people a special offer based on their age is illegal. It's called age discrimination.

      • by artor3 (1344997)

        Uhh, how do you explain senior discounts? Or the AARP? Heck, how about Social Security and Medicare?

        If there's a law against giving special offers based on a person's age, they're certainly doing a shit job enforcing it.

      • by Xeno man (1614779)
        Age discrimination is legal for many instances. We discriminate based on age for when you can get a drivers license, when you can consume alcohol, when you can vote and when you can have sex. Many places offer senior discounts that the young are not eligible for and if I was selling an adult product, I want to be damn sure that only adults will see my offers.
        • You're confusing two completely different things: laws that take your age into account (which by definition is legal - it's the law), and illegal discrimination based on age (which is illegal because the law says it is). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org] for example.

          • It seems they have banned discriminating against old people but not discriminating against young people.

      • All youngsters under 21 applaud your willingness to serve them alcohol. Doing otherwise would be age discrimination.

        • Not the best example considering a) the US has the highest drinking age in the world, bar none and b) the fact that special rights are being conferred after the age of legal majority for voting and all sorts of other independent actions is ethically incongruent at a minimum.

          You should have picked on something sensible, like not allowing tweens to drive.
      • by Lehk228 (705449)
        only if they are being discriminated against for being older
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        The problem is that it's almost impossible to prove. Say you go for a job interview at age 55, they can easily say you were overqualified or not "dynamic" enough. It might be easier to prove here because there will be code written that checks the age bracket entry in your file, but it wouldn't be hard to obfuscate.

    • um... this isn't the pick & save... this is the jail... hey car... CAR! Get back here!

    • Like race, perhaps? Even if it works out to race by other proxy characteristics, this has a lot of potential to blow up in the merchants' faces.

      Pretty much any sorting ends up inadvertently sorting by race as a side effect

      Then we all get to run around in ever smaller circles with our hair on fire, freaking out about it.

  • ... on a computer. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bob_super (3391281) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @07:10PM (#46051711)

    Once again, let me look around for something people have been doing and go to patent it "on a server" "based on online behavior" or "using a smartphone"

    I can't blame them for abusing the system, I can only blame the idiots who won't fix the system.

  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @07:10PM (#46051713)

    Now I can't get http://www.peopleofwalmart.com... [peopleofwalmart.com] out of my brain.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 23, 2014 @07:12PM (#46051737)

    That's a really cool thought experiment. Frankly I've always thought the rise of self driving cars would just make a world of taxis. You call a car on your "smart device" get in, it takes you wherever, you get off and it goes on to its next customer. Should be ultra, fantastically cheap and efficient, and you just make the interior able to be power hosed down every four hours. Or maybe a nicer automated cleaning for the "better" services.

    I wonder if gas stations will disappear because of that. After all why have your own car when hopping in an auto taxi will be just as fast, and involve no insurance, maintenance, or anything else that comes with a car, thus making it cheaper too? Meanwhile the auto taxis fill up back at "base", whether that's electric or gas or whatever.

    • And when there's an auto accident it makes the national news. That sounds pretty good to me.
      • by taustin (171655)

        What'll really make the news is the legal fight over liability. Car manufacturer blames manufacturer who made the self-driving system. Manufacturer blames the software company who wrote the software, or the manufacturer of the subsystem that failed. Software company/subcontractor blames "hackers," government blames "terrorists," and in the end, the guy with the least amount of money for lawyers gets the bill - and that'd the be the passenger.

        • by profplump (309017)

          Exactly. Just like we hold airline passengers responsible for crashes.

          Wait, I forgot that we're all pretending there's no analogy for liability and accident investigation for automated vehicles. Because planes are still controlled by WWII vets yanking on cables.

    • by taustin (171655) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @07:37PM (#46051957) Homepage Journal

      What you describe is not much different than taxis today. And yet, in most places, everybody has their own car. Self-driving cars are cheaper, sure, by the cost of a taxi driver, but that's not that big a savings, really. The reason people don't rely on taxis now is that you don't "call a car on your "smart device" get in, it takes you wherever." It's "call a car on your "smart device," wait until it arrives get in, it takes you wherever". That missing part is the big one. Particularly if the self-driving taxi service is for-profit, giving a considerable incentive to minimize costs (which is to say, number of vehicles - keep every one of them working 100% of the time). It will not be just as fast. Hell, today, you can book a taxi days in advance, and you can't count on them being there on time.

      As for cleaning, would you really want to ride any distance in a car that can be "power hosed down"? I'd rather have something a little more comfortable.

      And for everything you don't need - insurance, maintenance, etc., you have an increase in cost in the taxi service, because those things still have to be done.

      So your high tech utopia is, instead of jumping in your jalopy and going where you want to go immediately, will be call for the taxi, wait for it to arrive, pay fares at least as high as a taxi now, and probably have to pay extra to keep from having to share it with someone else going the same direction.

      No thanks.

      • by jrumney (197329)

        When more people use taxis, it will make more sense to provide more of them, so there is more chance that one is nearby when you want it. At peak times it makes more sense to use buses (where trains are not available).

        • At peak times it makes more sense to use buses (where trains are not available).

          No, at peak times, when all the traffic moves slowly, a taxi driver with extensive knowledge of alternate routes and the quickest route to your destination will flatten a bus that has to make scheduled stops.

          • by jrumney (197329)

            You'll most likely spend more time waiting for that taxi at peak times than you saved by the taxi driver using rat runs to avoid the traffic.

            • This is why cab stands near bus and train stops can make good money. When you've missed a bus, a cab to get you to the meeting on time, or in which you can use a cell phone without bus noise, is invaluable. I used one yesterday.

      • by Copid (137416)

        Self-driving cars are cheaper, sure, by the cost of a taxi driver, but that's not that big a savings, really.

        I think you may be underestimating the impact of a human driver on the cost of a taxi. Let's conservatively say the taxi gets 20mpg and pays $4 per gallon for gas. If it averages 30mph (very aggressive, given it's mostly city driving with a lot of idle time), it's burning $6 in gas per hour and at, say, $0.55 per mile in wear and tear, you have about $22.50 per hour in marginal costs from the car

        • ... ergo Über.
        • Take it from me - living in a country where the taxi system pretty much originated that way - you don't want that. The results:
          An ultracompetitive market where taxi drivers drive like absolute maniacs just to earn enough to survive becoming the number one accident risk on our roads, and still being broke at the end.
          Everybody lost (and for a great many people what they lost was their lives).

      • by Patch86 (1465427)

        Not that big of a saving?

        Lets assume that a taxi driver wants to earn £10 an hour. That'd be a good but unambitious wage. For a 15 minute drive in day time in my town, I'd expect to pay...maybe £6 or £7. So let's call that £20 an hour in revenues, less the dead time between fares.

        So, by removing the driver's salary from the equation, you could cut taxi fares in half. I'd consider "half" a big saving. While private car ownership might still work out a little cheaper in the long run, s

      • So your high tech utopia is, instead of jumping in your jalopy and going where you want to go immediately, will be call for the taxi, wait for it to arrive, pay fares at least as high as a taxi now, and probably have to pay extra to keep from having to share it with someone else going the same direction.

        No thanks.

        And that's the transit utopia.

        Transit for the masses involves much more crowding, inconvenience, dirt, and crime.

        I'll keep my car, thanks ... maybe hide it in my uncle's country place that no one knows about ...

      • You're forgetting one crucial factor - I won't say I know the total impact of this but it's big - namely if ALL the vehicles are self-driving then the self-driving taxi will get to you in a quarter of the time it does now (assuming all other factors remain the same - such as number of taxis per company) because self driving cars can move at maximum efficiency, there need never be a traffic jam again (research has pretty much proven that traffic jams are caused by human error NOT the amount of cars, having m

    • I'm just leaving the Bay Area, and most of my US-based friends use an app that you give a destination to, it automatically knows your location from GPS, calls a taxi, takes you to the destination, your phones both agree on the distance, and the charge is taken from your account. It's very smooth and convenient (and removes that awkward thing in the US of working out how much you're meant to tip the taxi driver, one of the tipping situations that appears to make no sense because having someone drive you is
    • by mjwx (966435)

      That's a really cool thought experiment. Frankly I've always thought the rise of self driving cars would just make a world of taxis. You call a car on your "smart device" get in, it takes you wherever, you get off and it goes on to its next customer. Should be ultra, fantastically cheap and efficient, and you just make the interior able to be power hosed down every four hours. Or maybe a nicer automated cleaning for the "better" services.

      I highly doubt self driving cars will become like taxi's. Definitely not in the short term because people will still own their own self driving car and organising a municipal fleet is expensive and fraught with bureaucracy (especially if it's done by the private sector, the politics of it will be even worse than city/state politics). Maybe in the long term but it would require a significant shift in the way we think about transportation in our society or for individual cars to become so expensive that ownin

      • The theory would be that the number of taxis would be basically the same as present cars during peak traffic (give or take), since they are replacing private vehicles, and they will be distributed appropriately.

        I'm not convinced of the "world of taxis" theory. I'm not even sure it will lead to reduced private car ownership. You can in principle have a private car for young children at an age where today we wouldn't trust them with a driver's license but we would trust them to bike to the store. It can dr

    • by Zynder (2773551)

      After all why have your own car when hopping in an auto taxi

      I'll give you one rock solid reason that many people on here don't give 2 shits about and will probably flame me over but it's a practical honest answer. I am a smoker. I know I'm not the only smoker on /. so there are others here who feel my pain. You cannot smoke in a taxi, bus, train, or even the freakin sidewalk these days. I can go several hours without smoking if I have to so it wouldn't affect me too much, but my wife smokes every 15 mi

      • Solution a) reduce addiction to a sicially accepted level
        Solution b) have smoker and non-smoker cars

        This is not a plane or a train compartment where smoke would fan out to hundreds of people.

      • I can imagine a market for self driving car taxis that cater specifically to smokers. Part of why you can't do it in taxis now is that there's a driver to consider, and another part is the lingering effects of smell etc.. The majority of autotaxis would be nonsmoker but there would be smoker vehicles as well, and your wife could refuse to ride the nonsmoker autotaxis and call the smoker taxi company.

        Another thing is that even in the "world of taxis" theory, I don't think private cars are outlawed. A smok

  • Should? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tailhook (98486) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @07:24PM (#46051829)

    Should self-driving cars chauffeur shopping 'whales' for free? Well I don't know if they should. However, I am absolutely certain they will. Unless some topples the powers-that-be, discards the Constitution and imposes the necessary rules to prevent it, that is.

    When a whale car shows up it "should" have a piping hot meal ready for consumption as well. Also, as the whale car proceeds to and from the mall it "should" be careful to avoid blighted neighborhoods to prevent any whale discouragement or whale hunting.

    Now the only question is; "should" the whale car meal include alcohol? Or perhaps marijuana, if it's a Colorado whale car?

    So, who wants to fund my new startup; Waylz, Inc.? Our e-business analyzes neighborhood disposition based on property values and crime rates to compute optimal routes; neighborhood navigation for retailers.

  • by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @07:32PM (#46051903)

    Instead of rewarding people for innovating, we incentivize people/companies to patent trivially simple ideas to lock their potential competitors out of new markets and actually stifle innovation.

    Patents are supposed to drive people to come up with ideas that would be cost prohibitive if they were not given some kind of incentive like a temporary government enforced monopoly. Giving out these monopolies in exchange for for such obvious ideas (i,.e. they would be invented regardless) is a shitty deal for society.

    • Patents are supposed to drive people to come up with ideas that would be cost prohibitive if they were not given some kind of incentive like a temporary government enforced monopoly.

      Patents *were* supposed to do that. There have been a bunch of amendments since, and now their sole purpose is to make a lot of money for big companies. Which is arguably good for the economy of countries that have a lot of big entrenched companies, and bad for the economy of the rest of the world.

      Giving out these monopolies in exchange for for such obvious ideas (i,.e. they would be invented regardless) is a shitty deal for society.

      I agree 100%.

  • ... in the summary ...

    "Google also describes how advertisers will be able to use a customer's profile 'to exclude a customer from being considered for an offer based on exclusion criteria identified by a business,' such as age, job title, purchasing history, clothing size, or other 'desirable' characteristics."

    ... is about as old as business IT. So now it includes a tiered offer for a transportation discount. The only new aspect is the self driven car, may as well give a gas discount to the customers who

  • Google also describes how advertisers will be able to use a customer's profile 'to exclude a customer from being considered for an offer based on exclusion criteria identified by a business,' such as age, job title, purchasing history, clothing size, or other 'desirable' characteristics.

    For example, if you're at home when a football game is on, then obviously you're a fan of the sport.

    No thanks, I won't be buying anything off Nest.

  • So it's basically a concierge, which has existed for thousands of years?

    Good job, patent office.

  • I'm sure this has already been said, but Google's positive index on the evil scale seems to be higher (or lower). Once again, they seem to be bordering on true neutral from a D&D sense; I guess that's not too bad considering they are a huge public corporation (that I don't think I'll work for any time soon). ~ Keenan

  • by new death barbie (240326) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @08:50PM (#46052529)

    "Should Self-Driving Cars Chauffeur Shopping 'Whales' For Free?"

    It's a just PATENT APPLICATION, for criminy's sake. They're not asking for anybody's permission. It's not going to come up for a vote on Slashdot. Nothing like a rabble-rousing headline to get those hits up.

    Why SHOULDN'T merchants be allowed to underwrite the use of a self-driving car? Why shouldn't a high-end merchant offer to pay for the taxi of (or send their own car for) a big-spending customer today (would that be prior art)? Some do. It's their call.

    It's not like there are no other taxis for the rest of us, and it's not like if there are SOME self-driving cars out there, underwritten by merchants, there won't be others out there for the rest of us, if we're willing to pay.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @09:44PM (#46052901)

    a system that arranges for free or discounted transportation to an advertiser's business location that will be more or less convenient based upon how profitable a customer is deemed.

    Strip clubs in Vegas and brothels in Nevada already give you free rides to their respective places of business.

    I'm pretty sure they also are more or less convenient, based on where they will be picking you up from...

  • Why the hell would I want a free ride to walmart? Why can't I sit on my ass in my house, click on all the crap I want and have the car show up with it a few minutes later? Now the car doesn't even need seats.

    • system that arranges for free or discounted transportation to an advertiser's business location that will be more or less convenient based upon how profitable a customer is deemed.

      "Now that we've picked you up and driven you across town, it's best that you be thinking of spending a few thousand dollars. You'd like to get back home sometime today, wouldn't you?"

  • I'm reminded of the mortgage company where I worked where loan officers pulling in monthly commissions of $10,000 a month and higher were "incentivized" by awarding the top sales every month perks like a $500 gift certificate for a golf shop, and the people who did the most work (hourly and salary employees) were incentivized by the knowledge that, if the owner ever needed to make a payment on his BMW SLK and his finances were tight, the money the company and owners saved from firing any of those employees

    • The obvious difference is that the loan officers brought in clients and their money, and the other employees didn't.
      • by Patch86 (1465427)

        [Marxism]

        It's be nice to see what would happen if one of those Loan Officers brought in all that "new business", but there was no-one around to do the work for them. A salesman might seem like he's the one making the money, but he'd be worthless without the factory workers giving him things to sell.

        [/Marxism]

        • by MitchDev (2526834)

          Damn right. These corporate assholes and the executives wouldn't have shit if it weren't for all the REAL workers doing the real work.
          Most can't even figure out how to print a simple document to a printer...

  • It's an algorithm FFS... just mathematics applied to variables to derive the customer's worthiness... Stupid American Patent Office... should be throwing this rubbish out...
  • "Google also describes how advertisers will be able to use a customer's profile 'to exclude a customer from being considered for an offer based on exclusion criteria identified by a business,' such as age, job title, purchasing history, clothing size, or other 'desirable' characteristics.""

    Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are licking their lips and lawyers are lining up for the discrimination lawsuits...

  • It'd be interesting to see if a company like Target or Costco offered people a free self-driven van to pick up and drop them back off for shopping trips. Perhaps make it free if spending over $100. A great way to draw in business at the cost of maybe $3-5 per trip to the company.

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