Want to hit up the mall but can't find a ride? Don't worry. In the future, Google might be able to pick you up—maybe even for free, and in a self-driving car.
The company was awarded a patent for an ad-powered taxi service, meaning its fleet of surprisingly safe, self-driving vehicles will offer to give you a lift to a brick-and-mortar store in hopes that you'll buy something.
How the program might work is a clever bit of location-based marketing and social engineering: Ride offers are beamed to potential customers via their smartphones, or special Google kiosks dotted around the community. When you arrive at your location, you'll either be charged a discounted taxi rate, or—depending on your purchasing history stored in the Google mothership—your ride could be on the house.
If you head to Home Depot, for example, the hope is that you'll walk away with a new power drill, thanks in part to Google's largesse. There's a cost-benefit analysis going on behind the scenes, of course: If you have a habit of buying lots of stuff, you'll get more ride offers; if you hitch one too many free lifts, well... Google might not be as kind.
In some ways it's like Uber without the drivers. Or your best friend's begrudging older brother in high school, just slightly more utopian. That said, the ad system isn't explicitly listed in the patent as part of our driverless future; but it seems somewhat inevitable.