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Google’s Waze Tests Carpooling Service

RideWith_lThe Waze navigation app uses information collected from users to determine and inform about traffic patterns, with the aim of “outsmarting traffic, together”. It’s not the only app utilizing crowd-sourced data for navigation but its approach was among the best, and the company was subsequently acquired by Google in 2013 for $1.1 billion.

Last week, Waze announced it was trialling a carpooling app in Israel, matching fellow commuters. The service, RideWith, is motivated by goodwill creation and a small amount of revenue — the app recommends how much commuters can chip in for the cost of petrol and wear on the car, and Waze gets a 15 percent commission.

It won’t constitute a full job for the driver, and RideWith is unlikely to face the same regulatory and industry scrutiny that’s plagued Uber across the globe. Carpooling has clear environmental advantages that no industry can argue against, and related apps and services have been around for years. Waze will simply provide a more accurate matchmaking service for a small fee.

RideWith is only being tested in areas around Tel Aviv at present, but there’s an eagerness to read into this development. If successful, Google could roll the concept out across other geographical areas, with particular focus on regions where car ownership costs are high.

RideWith isn’t an on-demand car service, but it highlights the growing encroachment between Google and Uber. It seems premature to point to an app developed by a small, autonomous unit of Google (and that’s being trialled in a single area of Israel) as an indication of wider competition. But both companies have interests in transportation disruption, and more overlaps appear inevitable.

Uber recently purchased mapping assets from Microsoft (see Daily Insight: Uber Buys Microsoft Location Assets) and had a rumoured interest in acquiring Nokia’s Here unit. Uber needs accurate maps and traffic data to enable its service, and would undoubtedly like to break its reliance on Google’s maps.

Google and Uber also share an interest in self-driving cars. Uber and Carnegie Mellon University recently established the Advanced Technologies Center to develop mapping solutions and autonomous vehicles. A fleet of driverless, robotic cars would allow Uber to cut costs further, though could eventually face criticism from Uber drivers who have faced backlash and even riots from taxi drivers in several large cities.

It’s unlikely that Google will compete directly with Uber in its core business given the current complexities of the taxi industry. Disruption can be a messy business. But as location and transportation services become more closely linked and synergies grow, it’s too tempting to stay away from such a massive opportunity. Big changes are coming for automakers, car services and mapping companies. Competition is developing in unexpected ways.

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