A very interesting story recently broke regarding the legality and politics of autonomous vehicles. From CNN: “Nevada became the first state on Monday to approve a license plate for prototypes of “autonomous vehicles” that drive themselves.” This, of course, is referencing Google’s initiative to develop a fully autonomous vehicle; highlighted by a blind man ‘driving’ the Google car in this CNN video as he exclaims, “look ma, no hands!”

This is a huge step for Google, despite the story being more of a publicity stunt via Google and the State of Nevada than any sort of actual technological breakthrough.  However, the fact that Nevada is willing to back such a controversial initiative is telling.  There has always been quite a bit of backlash to the thought of humans legally getting driven by a ‘hands free’ vehicle within the next ten years.  Questions about safety, legality, and feasibility have all been thrown into the mix by detractors.  However, these types of questions have never deterred Google (or Nevada) in terms of pushing a controversial project that can potentially become a cash cow.

In fact, Google and Nevada are perfect partners.  For Nevada, and more specifically, Las Vegas, the revenue generation options for autonomous vehicles are appealing.   Picture slot machines in your rental car so you can get an early jump on the gambling even prior to arriving at the casino. Perhaps even some complimentary libations to loosen a patron’s wallet strings prior to arrival.

For Google, everything often circles back to their primary source of revenue: advertising.  Currently, Google faces some legal / ethical boundaries in regards to serving ‘full fledged’ advertising to drivers. How would it look if a driver crashed their car because eye captivating ad imagery suddenly flashed across their windshield?  However, take away the primary problem in that advertising equation – the driver – and you have yourself a magnificent form of marketing.

Businesses will literally gain the ability to pull cars into their premises as if they had a tractor beam. Imagine this:  an ad splays across a autonomous vehicle’s windshield, perhaps touting the best burger in San Francisco, as the car whizzes down 101. The human ‘operator’ decides it looks appetizing, and simply clicks the display, which immediately re-routes the car directly to the restaurant parking lot.

Of course, there are quite a few hurdles to be crossed – legal, political, and technological – in order for this scenario to become a reality.  However, Google has been known to work the ‘long tail’ strategy in order to achieve their goals;  building an entire platform from the ground up to indirectly create an advertising eco-system doesn’t seem so unfamiliar.  Perhaps Google is telling us that, for them, there really is no difference between the internet highway and the real highway.