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Google patents ROBO-TAXIS to ferry punters into advertiser's shops, restaurants, etc for free

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What's holding you back from online shopping? Not being to touch or test drive the thing you desire before splashing the cash? What if someone were to drive you to the store, dealership or wherever, to seal the deal for free? Great idea, huh?

Well, Google just patented it. The web ad kingpin, which designs self-driving cars and acquires military-grade robots, has come up with a system to ferry punters to advertisers, door to door, and work out who picks up the fare.

The rubber-stamped technology factors in location, the distance to travel, how busy the punter is, whether a competitor will pay more to take the customer elsewhere, gasoline prices and other costs to calculate the return on taxiing a potential customer to a shop, restaurant, office or other place of business.

It can suggest whether it's worth the advertiser's while to foot the entire travel bill or just part of it. In doing so, Google – which is all over artificial intelligence at the moment – believes it can help provide a cost analysis for a subsidized shuttle service. Of course, if an advertiser doesn't want to use a human-driven cab, the patent describes autonomous vehicles, too.

"The present invention relates generally to arranging for free or discounted transportation to an advertiser's business location," the document states. "More specifically, aspects of the invention involve automatically comparing the cost of transportation and the potential profit from a completed transaction using real-time analysis."

It goes on to say businesses can be located way out of town, where land is cheap and plentiful, because the Google taxi service will shuttle customers to them:

Getting a potential customer to a business location in order to conduct a sale may be one of the most difficult tasks for a business or advertiser. An advertiser may have to offer various inducements, such as coupons, discounts, parking validations, etc., in order to entice customers to the location. In some examples, “brick and mortar” businesses may even be forced to invest in more costly real estate near high-traffic areas as opposed to lower-cost real estate in more isolated locations. Occasionally, products may have higher profit margins for the advertiser which justify providing customers with free or low cost transportation (such as rental car agencies).

Naturally, the design goes on to describe how taxis can provide targeted advertisements to passengers, how the system can pay referrals to cabbies for recommended places to go, and so on.

Given Google's keen interest in robotics, self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence, this patent paints a rather interesting (or terrifyingly dystopian, depending on your view) world in which a fleet of autonomous taxis pick you up, feed you ads, and drop you off in the middle of nowhere to the highest bidder.

It is worth noting, however, that the proposed service exists only on paper, and may never materialize, to the best of our knowledge, of course. ®

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