Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Google: Monetizing the Automatrix

Posted on | October 18, 2010 | No Comments

Google recently announced its work on a driverless car to mixed reviews. While a technical success, with only one mishap in 140,000 miles of testing, many felt that Google was losing its focus. I think this latter view underestimates the Google strategy – to monetize the road.

As we move towards the “Automatrix,” the newly forming digital environment for transportation, Google looks to situate its search/advertising business at its center.

Let’s face it; the car is almost synonymous with shopping and consumerism. Whether going to the mall to buy some new shoes, picking up groceries, or going out to look for a new washing machine – the car transports both our bodies and our booty. Nothing in the fridge? Drive out to nearest Applebee, Dennys, or Olive Garden for some nachos and diet coke. Got kids? Try the drive-in for a Happy Meal or some Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza after a day at the water park. You get the point: have car, will spend. It’s American.

Google, who wants to organize the world’s information, clearly sees your car as a major generator of that data and the car occupants as major traffic generators – the good kind of traffic – on the web, not the road. They want the passenger to focus on the navigation, not the road. They want to provide destinations, stops, places to rest and refresh. The car will provide the movement while “the fingers do the walking,” to draw on a famous Yellow Pages ad. While AC Nielsen, famous for its ratings business, has championed the three screen advertising measurement (TV, PC, mobile phone), you could say is Google is going for a four-screen strategy: PC, mobile, TV, and now the dashboard. Talk about a captured audience! It has the potential to pay off big, adding billions more to Google’s bottom line by tying passengers to the web.

Can driving through downtown Newark, sitting at a light, or leaving a movie theater parking lot, really compete with the latest user-generated video on YouTube? As you drive to the airport, wouldn’t you rather be making dinner reservations or checking out entertainments at your flight destination? No, Route 66 is going to be because, well, Pops Restaurant bought the ad word and you would rather be enjoying a coke and burger anyway.

Actually, I’m all for computers driving my car, as long as they are doing it for other drivers as well. Yes, I enjoy the occasional thrill of driving and probably more, the relaxing feel from the directed focus of the activity. However, I prefer looking out the window, listening to music, and even reading a book. GPS has already rescued me from the travel maps as I now need reading glasses to see them anyway. Besides, the road is dangerous. It’s really scary passing that zigzagging car because the driver is zoning out in a conversation with his ex-wife or some teenager is texting the girl he has a crush on.

Sure, I have mixed feelings about sliding into the Automatrix. Taking over the steering wheel seems like a bit of a stretch, even for Moore’s Law modern day microprocessors. It will require a whole new framework for car safety testing. However, it has been over 40 years since they guided the Apollo spacecraft to Moon, so it makes sense to replace the current system of haphazard meat grinders we currently use.

Google, you can drive my car.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.


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