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Get Ready for Ad-Supported Robotaxis

With Google rapidly nearing market-readiness for its self-driving cars, how long will it be before self-driving taxis are a new medium for targeted ads?

As I wrote in a previous post, self-driving taxi or Uber rides are poised to become as cheap as (or even cheaper than) owning a car for a large number of Americans in the near future.  Uber’s CEO has stated that he wants to replace human Uber drivers with autonomous vehicles, and Google has been working on its own cars that don’t even have a steering wheel.  Estimates vary on when autonomous vehicles will be ready for mass-market adoption, but it’s a fair bet that they they will start to turn up in major metropolitan taxi services in about 5 years.

Most of the discussion around these “robotaxis” has been focused on the technical, safety, and legal challenges of autonomous driving.  However, an aspect of self-driving taxi services that hasn’t received much attention is the potential for ad-supported rides.  Regular taxis are already plastered with advertising in many cities, but the ads are generally an afterthought without targeting passengers or other drivers.  And it’s hard for passengers to tell if suffering through ads while they sit in the back seat of a taxi is in any way making their ride cheaper.  That’s about to change.

Google is, after all, an ad delivery company at its core.  And it’s hard to imagine a more captive audience than a passenger in a car stuck in traffic who no longer has to have their eyes on the road.  If you summon a robotaxi, it will already know who you are and can use traditional ad targeting techniques to deliver ads matching your preferences and needs.  Even better, robotaxi ads can target passengers in other cars based on location data gathered from their phones to deliver relevant ads to anyone nearby.  The technology to make this possible is already in place – all that’s needed is exterior display panels attached to cars.  Here’s how it is likely to work:

 

In-cabin ads

 

Exterior display ads

This might seem creepy, but the upside for consumers is likely to silence opposition.  When robotaxis become widespread, we can expect to see price competition drive providers toward options that generate revenue without increasing ride cost, and what better model is there than the tried and true ad-supported revenue model that permeates the web?  The price wars in the App Store have proven that customers are more than willing to sit through ads if it means that they can get a service for free, so it isn’t a stretch to assume that they will also sit through ads to get a cheaper (or free) taxi ride.  Just ask yourself which of these you would choose:

The future is coming, and it’s full of ads.

Michael Dorazio