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Google patents free self-driving taxi scheme to lure shoppers

Nothing in life is free. But Google might change that with free taxi rides to retail locations.

In a patent published 14 January by the US Patent and Trademark Office, the search giant outlines a mobile/web app that would serve up targeted ads for its advertisers, but throw in gratis cab rides to those businesses' locations.

"The invention involves automatically comparing the cost of transportation and the potential profit from a completed transaction using a number of real-time calculations," the patent said.

Based on Google's description, the system would consider the user's current location, their most likely route and form of transportation, and daily agenda, as well as the potential prices advertisers are willing to pay to deliver the customer to their location.

Say you're on the other side of the city from your favourite ice cream shop, when an ad pops up on your smartphone: "Buy one cone get a second one free." Tempting, but not enough of a bargain for you to schlep across town. But the promise of a free (or heavily reduced) taxi ride could be enough to send you jetting through traffic for a couple of scoops.

This idea extends beyond city cabs, though: public transportation, a personal car or rental car, and shared vehicles are also considerations, with the option to hand out reimbursement for those users.

The patent filing even tips the use of Google's self-driving cars to shuttle willing customers around town—all in the name of supporting brick-and-mortar retailers.

Above all, the company must determine how best to target customers, so instead of spamming people with unwanted advertisements, they can instead make sure that the movie junkie gets promotional tickets to the local theatre, or the gambler is offered a few free chips in Las Vegas.

Like so many of the patents filed by tech companies, this service may never come to fruition.

"We file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with," a Google spokesman said in a statement. "Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don't. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications."

The patent was originally filed in January 2011.

This week, Google shook hands with Samsung over a new global patent deal.