Google’s Spin-Off Combines Transport Providers, Navigation and Infrastructure in One App

As if Google doesn’t know almost everything about us—our interests, our favourite cat picture, our next holiday destination, our favourite genre of videos for adults (ahem), etc—it is about to start ‘controlling’ how we get around in this world. Okay, maybe not ‘controlling’, but definitely offering suggestions.

Sidewalk Labs is a spin-off from Google, and it has just introduced to the world its cloud-based platform to help coordinate mobility within a city. Called Coord (coordinate, geddit?), it integrates all ride-, car-, and bike-sharing services, as well as regular public transit, like bus and rail. When you use a navigation app to look up the route to your destination, you might get only one transport option, but Coord will bundle all options into one app, and identify legal pick-up and drop-off areas, and provide toll and parking information, and a cost estimate.

In an interview with Wired, Coord CEO, Stephen Smyth, said that “We don’t ourselves operate a mobility service. We’re 100 percent focused on being the connective tissue.”

This “connective tissue” is not free, of course. Coord will offer transport service providers the option to be included in its app, for a fee. As for users, not unlike other popular navigation apps which rely on advertising money, we wouldn’t be surprised if those annoying Google ads that follow you around in the scary world of the wide web would also pop up. (“Going uptown? Didn’t you search for ‘pizza toppings ideas’ the other day? Here’s a new pizza place where you’re heading too…” STOP READING MY MIND, GOOGLE!)

Of course, being able to collect and use mobility data to optimise transportation systems, including removing redundancies, would also optimize the use of a city’s resources and just make it easier for the common folk to get around. But, questions must be asked, information privacy being one of them. Smyth said that the vast amount of information it provides to the cities is “not personally identifiable” and is about curbs, tollways, and parking lots, not about the individual. That said, that’s not to say it doesn’t have the information on the daily movement of the individual, which can be used to help a transport service provider or advertiser, and influence the user. (“After the pizza place, use this long-ass way home because you need to check out this brand new gym in town!”).

Of course, we shouldn’t let fear of technology impede progress. A city that moves like clockwork is every urbanite and commuter’s dream. And maybe letting an A.I. tell us how to have a better life may turn out to be a good idea after all.

Read also: City Brain Will Improve Kuala Lumpur Traffic, But It Is Also Disturbingly Orwellian

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