Google apparently is all set to launch a new carpooling service for office workers in major cities around the world.
Dubbed RideWith, the service will link people looking for a ride to their place of work and back with drivers making the same trip, Israel's Haaretz reported on Monday.
Google will launch a pilot version of the service this week in Tel Aviv, Ra'anana and Herzliya, Israel. The company will also make the pilot service available to students at Tel Aviv University. Based on how successful the pilot turns out, Google will launch RideWith in other cities in Israel and eventually around the world.
Google did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the new service or of its plans to launch it in the United States and elsewhere.
According to Haaretz, RideWith was developed by Waze, the Israeli maker of traffic and navigation apps for mobile devices that Google acquired in 2013 for close to $1 billion.
Android users in Israel who want to use the pilot service will need to install Google's new RideWith application on their mobile devices. To get a ride, they enter into the app their home address, the address of their workplace and the time when they want a ride. RideWith will then attempt to match the passenger with drivers using a similar route at the desired times, Haaretz said.
The RideWith service will rely on Waze to identify drivers using the desired route and send them an alert inquiring about their willingness to accept a ride. Drivers will be restricted to offering just two rides per day and will be paid only a relatively modest fee based on distance. Google will recommend a nonbinding price for the trip but will also set a maximum fee that can be charged for any trip.
Passengers will be able to use the RideWith app to pay for the ride, with Google keeping 15 percent of the fee for itself.
While RideWith on the surface might appear to rival Uber's ridesharing service, Google's decision to restrict the number of rides that drivers can accept each day to two could limit RideWith's impact on Uber and other services at least for the moment. That could change, however, as the company begins rolling out the service to more cities and countries in future.
Ezra Gottheil, principal analyst at Technology Business Research, said that the initiative is consistent with Google's interest in cars and transportation in general.
"Driverless cars are the logical way to deliver car services, and when they are widely available, Uber will either partner with Google or compete for driverless car services," Gottheil said in an email to eWEEK. "Until then, Google doesn't want to ensnarl itself with the labor and insurance issues around Uber. That is the reason for limiting the number of rides" to two per day, he said.
News of RideWith is not entirely unexpected. Earlier this year, Bloomberg Business reported on Google's then nascent plans to launch a ridesharing service, which the publication had claimed would be Uber-like in scope and concept.
According to Bloomberg, Google's long-term vision is to tie its ridesharing service with its autonomous car initiative. Apparently, the company hopes to one day have fleets of its self-driving vehicles patrolling city streets to pick up and drop off passengers in a manner similar to Uber, Bloomberg had noted in its report.
Uber, meanwhile, has entered into a strategic partnership with Carnegie Mellon University to work on mapping, vehicle safety and other autonomous vehicle technology. Some see the initiative as putting Uber on a head-on collision course with Google's efforts in the self-driving vehicle space.