When Google imagines 21st century travel, it seems to believe we will all be hitching rides from others. From NASA piggybacking with private-sector space flights to a valet service that finds you, Google sees the "sharing economy" in all aspects of travel.
Putting aside Google’s much-publicized driverless car, the company has seen huge potential in ride-sharing applications, which is probably why it invested in three such services. Sidecar, RelayRides, and Uber have all received money from Google. Uber is where Google dumped the most money and has since become the most utilized ride-sharing service around the world.
Google even invested in the California-based start-up Luxe Valet, an on-demand valet service that sends drivers to your location to park your car for you.
But what is the use of finding a ride if you will just be stuck in traffic? No worries, Google has also invested in traffic analysis start-ups for a smooth commute. Urban Engineers is an ambitious little company that looks to improve on existing infrastructure of cities by analyzing the “Internet of Moving Things” and pulling data on every vehicle that travels through a city on a given day. (The company recently released a “smart offline mapping” app.) Google bought another social traffic app, Waze, which gives real-time, community-built feedback on roadway conditions – from weather and congestion to speed traps and accidents.
Google also put money into KeepTruckin, which allows companies and drivers to track everything 18-wheelers are up to without heavily investing in GPS equipment. It can track locations, see loading status, and keep track of cargo and hours.
But Google also looks to the skies for smart travel investments. Anyone who has booked a flight through Expedia, Travelocity, or the in-house Google Flight Search can thank ITA Software for making online searches much easier. The company was purchased by Google in 2010 and has been in the business of collecting flight information since the mid-nineties.
ITA may eventually have a new kind of flight to book, given Google’s recent billion-dollar joint investment in SpaceX, the private company that manufactures and launches rocket ships and has the ultimate goal of allowing humans to inhabit other planets. Though this split 10-percent stake with Fidelity Investments in SpaceX is likely for its satellite program, there’s a good chance Google saw huge potential in private sector space travel, which has become a part-time hobby for more than one billionaire.
“The larger implication is that Google is so culturally powerful now, that it's structured the way we think – it structures our decision making,” says Siva Vaidhyanathan, cultural historian and author of "The Googlization of Everything: (and Why We Should Worry)." “We default to a sort of data-driven, algorithmically-driven set of solutions or reactions to the world. So if there’s a problem with traffic, we think of creating a smart city with self-driving cars, rather than imagining ways to get people out of cars, or doing the hard political work of funding public transportation.”
Google did not respond to multiple requests for comment.