Google cashes in if autonomous cars arrive

UBS bank predicts billions in revenue for Google if we all take up the robot car offer


There are severe doubts over the date when autonomous cars finally take over from human drivers. However, one thing now seems certain - when (and it’s probably when, not if) autonomous motoring takes off, Google is going to make billions.

Not by selling autonomous cars, but by selling us adverts while we sit in our autonomous cars. After all, what else did you think you were going to do during those hours your robot car takes to navigate the traffic jams of the future? Because they’ll still be there. No matter how clever the autonomous tech is, traffic is still going to come to a frequent halt.

According to Price Waterhouse Coopers, the increasing uptake of shared vehicle services by those who might currently use public transport could see personal car mileage in Europe increase by as much as 23 per cent, to 5.88 billion kilometres per year. The US is expected to see a similar rise of 24 per cent, while China’s figure is expected to boom by a massive 183 per cent.

All of which is a huge opportunity for Google. While Google got into the self-driving car game because its co-founder Sergey Brin lost a good friend to a car accident and vowed that he would create a car, driven and controlled by a computer that could simply never have an accident, the fact is that the internet giant sees a main chance to expand its advertising business to a captive audience.

That’s why Google’s plans to build its own autonomous car have taken something of a back-seat to co-developments between its Waymo autonomous car offshoot and traditional car makers (Fiat-Chrysler and Jaguar amongst them). The idea seems to be that the car makers will provide the cars, Google will provide the autonomous capability, and will presumably take the opportunity to bombard those inside the car with advertising as they inevitably use the internet while on their journeys.

If so, Google will be raking it in. According to research released by UBS investments, revenue from autonomous driving and ride-hailing services will top USD$2.3-trillion by the end of 2030, and thanks to its efforts with Waymo, Google could be in a position to snap up as much as 60 per cent of that market. According to UBS, “Google’s Waymo self-driving division is worth $75 billion when its opportunities in services and software are considered.”

Interestingly, UBS doesn’t mention any of the other big tech players - Apple, Microsoft, Amazon - in this report. It seems that Google and Waymo could well have something of a monopoly on in-autonomous-car advertising services.

Of the traditional car makers, UBS named two - General Motors (which was recently criticised for plans to have in-dash advertising in conventional cars) and Mercedes-Benz - as being best-placed to cash in on the autonomous revolution.

Given that it’s the week of GDPR, surely there must be some personal security and privacy implications in all of this? Not according to the tech experts, there isn’t. Rui Costa, chief technical officer at Veniam, a company that specialises in car-to-internet communications, told The Irish Times that: “GDPR is expected to offer greater protection for consumers. Beyond that, consumers will likely be asked to choose between very low-cost mobility services delivered by autonomous vehicles with advertising, or premium services with improved quality of experience and greater privacy. In either case, the emerging mobility ecosystem requires a completely new communications infrastructure that meets the combined challenge of security and scalability.”