Google is moving ahead with its efforts to introduce driverless cars. On June 13 it submitted a smiling car icon for trademark protection at the US Patent and Trademark Office (application 85650611). The application does not provide explicit information about the intended use beyond a reference to autonomous driving, but it is obvious that the icon was primarily designed to show available cars in an online map. We have tried to anticipate what this could look like (see graphic below). Whereas Google’s car sharing service will be a natural fit with Google maps, we had to use OpenStreetMap for the graphic because of copyright issues.
The graphic shows Google cars available in Las Vegas; we don’t know yet where Google might ultimately launch a car-sharing service but Nevada has become the first state where key legal hurdles for the operation of autonomous cars have been removed.
Why is Google protecting the logo now? Unless Google has made much greater advances with its technology than is currently known, it is unlikely that an autonomous car sharing service operated by Google could be introduced before 2015. But Google could either be working on developing the software infrastructure for their future mobility services which would quickly lead to icon and logo issues. Or they could be contemplating starting (or buying) a conventional car-sharing service first. They would get first-hand experience and could gradually expand it into a driverless mobility service.
The logo is clear evidence that Google considers car-sharing as the primary business model for its driverless technology. It will not compete with established car makers heads on; instead it will change the fundamentals of personal mobility. Greatly reduced costs through car-sharing and increased flexibility will drive millions of customers away from private car ownership and into the service offerings of Google. Car-makers beware!