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Why Google is racing to develop a driverless car. Hint: It’s not just about selling cars…

Gordon Campbell, Digital Marketing Manager at Lookers, discusses how everything may not be what it seems when it comes to driverless cars and looks at the motives of technology companies moving in on the act.

On an almost daily basis we hear about possibilities surrounding the driverless car. Technology companies such as Google have led us to believe that the new technology road safety, reduce congestion and open up car ownership to more people.

There is one other key benefit that we are being told we will be gifted with when driverless cars eventually enter the mainstream. This is a valuable commodity that many of us lack in the modern world – free time.

Having more free time sound like a no-strings-attached natural by-product of having a computer drive you to work but all is not what it seems…

Driving is fun until it’s not

Driving can be fun. That relaxing Sunday drive out in the countryside or simply cruising down the motorway making your way to a family trip, but let’s face it nobody really enjoys the daily commute to work.

Sitting in traffic jams or anxiously wishing for the light to turn from green to red so you’re not late to the office isn’t fun. There are just some journeys that could be made much more enjoyable or productive if you didn’t have to drive.

Driverless cars offer us a solution. Instead of driving you could be finishing off a presentation, watching a movie or browsing the internet when making your way to your destination safe in the knowledge that your safety is in the hands of complex computer algorithms.

Google is losing money because of your daily commute

As you are probably well aware, Google is the most popular search engine. You may think of Google as a free service but they made £53bn last year by advertising to its users. When you search the internet there is a good chance that you will see adverts at the top of your search results, and each time one of those adverts is clicked, Google makes money.

The amount that Google is paid is usually dependent on how competitive the market is. Recent research has shown that some ad clicks can cost as much as $54.91! If you visit websites and see banner style adverts, there is a high chance that the adverts you are seeing are also served by Google, and again, they make money each time you click.

You are also possibly aware of the annoying ads that show before you play a YouTube video, and yes you guessed it, Google also makes money from these as well. So when you browse the internet, there is a good chance that Google is making money from you, and the less time you spend online, the less money Google makes from you.

If you are driving to work, or anywhere else, you are unable to browse the internet in a safe manner meaning that Google are unable to serve you with ads. No ads = no money. Reclaiming the time people currently spend driving is obviously a massive opportunity for Google and will likely increase their revenue.

Now that we know how Google make their money then maybe the offering of having more free time isn’t as altruistic as it sounds…

So what does this mean?

For the average person I don’t think it will make a massive amount of difference. Most people are quite happy to use Google even if they are being sold to, and because Google’s Ads are often so targeted, it sometimes doesn’t even feel like an advertisement.

I reached out to Google commentator and digital marketing expert Barry Adams owner of Polemic Digital to find out what he thinks. Barry said "Google does nothing for altruistic reasons. All of Google's 'side-projects', be it internet-enabling balloons, home-assistant devices, or driverless cars, are intended to get more people to spend more time online so that Google can show them more ads. Driverless cars are probably Google's most ambitious project, and one where they have the most competition. But if they can crack it and become the dominant force, it'll open up new revenue streams for them to guarantee profits and shareholder value for decades."

As a digital marketer I see it as a way to reach potential customers during their daily drive to and from work. Traditionally this has been done via radio or billboard advertising but perhaps if people are more likely to be looking at a laptop, tablet or phone then ‘Google may kill the radio ad’ if businesses start diverting even more of their budget online.

For people who don’t like being tracked, we already know that Google records your browsing habits, location history and even keeps a record of voice searches that you’ve made, so having a company that has an interest in tracking your every move be in control of your car, may make some people slightly uneasy.

What do you think about driverless cars? Let us know by leaving a comment here.