Friday, July 20, 2012

Google I/O: A Pathos of Google

Vegas was built in a desert. To supply the energy requirements of a sprawling city that never closes, one of America’s great structures was erected; the Hoover Dam. When you go to visit it you can see by the color of the rocks how the water level has receded over time. Eventually there will not be enough power to keep Vegas going without other means. This is a problem that is deserving of a grand solution.  For the solution let’s look at a future road trip to Vegas.

Image from 1933 Fortune Magazine Article that describes the Dam.  

The Exposed White Rock shows the Dam Water Level has Receded

BACHELORETTE PARTY!! You and your friends live in Riverside, CA.  It is close to Los Angeles, but for this party everyone is excited to go to Vegas.  The first step is a road trip through the desert.  The air is hot and dry and the four of you are about to begin the 4 hour stretch on I-15.

There is a gas station sign that signals last chance for gas in 2 miles. In 1 mile is an exit for the Google Gas Free Freeway. Out of curiosity the driver gives it a chance and she takes the exit. Other signs along the highway direct her to turn her radio to 89.5FM for Google Gas Free Information. She obliged and the radio announces, “Welcome to the Google Gas Free Freeway route for Las Vegas, Nevada. A cooperative project of Google and the California and Nevada Traffic Authorities. Please pull into the parking garage ahead.” Other signs direct her into the parking lot. It is a small lot, and there are no other cars around except for a tow truck behind the attendant booth. Inside the booth a person is patiently waiting in case there are any questions or any service is required. Also, the playful multi-colored signs are directing the path to take. The spaces are clearly defined as one would expect.  However, in each one is a large yellow platform. It is obvious that the car should be parked directly on top of it. Signs in front light up just like in an automatic car wash. A green light with a sign signals her to ‘Drive Forward’. As she inches forward a red light comes on. ‘Stop, Put in Park. Put on Emergency Brake’. A few seconds later a yellow light comes on and reads ‘Please Pay Toll’. A pay meter that was inactive and unobserved came to life as it rolled into place next to the driver side window.  It resembled an ATM display.  A display prompts for a language. The sound of motors can be heard inside the machine. A slot suddenly opens and a brochure slides out for the driver to accept. The display on the screen now reads, ‘Please review the brochure to understand the process. Once satisfied, please accept the terms of service and pay the toll. Click here to pay the toll. Click here for more information about the toll.’ The toll is also displayed. The driver is confused about why anyone would pay the $15 toll to drive on this road and so asks for more information. A new display comes up. ‘The current toll is $15.00. With today’s fuel price the average cost of this trip is $40.00. Please see the brochure for more information about the toll.’ Seeing the savings the driver decides to pay the fee. 'To pay with cash, select here and then follow the on screen instructions to proceed.' The next screen comes up, 'To pay with your card swipe here and follow the instructions. To pay with your NFC equipped device, place your device on the pad to the right. To pay with your Google Checkout account or to set one up please select here.' The driver did not know about the other options and paid with a debit card. ‘Thank you.'

'Please leave your vehicle in park and the emergency brake on until you come to a complete stop.' The machine went back to its original quiet position in front of the car. A few moments later the sound of rushing air could be heard. It was obvious the entire vehicle rose a couple inches off the ground. The yellow platform they parked on was slowly leaving the parking garage on its own, hovering steadily towards a tunnel.  A sign welcomed them in large bold lettering; Welcome to the Google Gas Free Freeway. 

There was a gentle tug and a gradual acceleration and the people in the vehicle recognized the feeling as similar to their ski trips in Colorado. It was the same feeling of entering a ski lift. A belt caught the platform from underneath. Two metal tracks supplied a path for power to keep the air compressor running to keep the car hovering. It was the smoothest traveling they had ever experienced in a car. The passengers also let the driver know how much straighter it was also. 

Once a constant speed was reached the dim yellowish lights along the side of the wall gave way to a complete over head roof of calming blue LEDs. A message appeared in the lights, floating in front of the vehicle. It was as if a movie screen attached itself to the vehicle. It was the WWF logo. The logo faded and scrolling text started at a distance and disappeared over the windshield. 'The World Wildlife Federation would like to thank you for choosing to take this travel option. It uses a buried road design that does not impact the routes our wildlife needs for their migration. WWF is one of many proud sponsors of this project.' The message disappeared. 

Another screen appeared. 'MENU' in larger letters than the rest. 'Use your turn signals to navigate the menu', scrolled beneath it. The driver tried it. She turned the right turn signal on and the menu changed to 'Trip Information'. 'Flash your High beams to select' scrolled across the bottom this time. Once this was done, 'Travel Time remaining: 90 minutes.' Then, 'Current Speed: 150 mph' It did not feel any faster than they usually travel. 

After a minute the message went back to the main menu. This time the driver clicked through a couple times. A flash went off in the passenger’s seat, a picture to capture what was happening. The flash also had the effect of selecting 'Conditions in Las Vegas'.  Undoubtedly this was a bug that confused the camera flash with the flash of the high beams. 'Weather, 95 degrees Traffic: Some routes backed up. Flash High beams twice for more traffic info.' The driver did. A logo for Google Maps came up. A moment later the satellite view for Vegas came up with traffic conditions turned on. “Ok, so as long as we stay off those highways we will be fine. That’s not too bad.” Some time passed as they tried to figure out how to use the turn signals and high beams to zoom into their hotel location. They could figure out zones of the city, but specifics seemed impossible. 

After a few moments of inactivity the display switched to an ad, 'Come to Caesars'. The lights flashed and sparkled. 'Come see Cirque du Soleil. In our brand new NOBU restaurant.  The food and drink specials are...' After that, another ad, for another casino and attraction. A message flashed occasionally above, 'Flash your high beams to return to the MENU' The group in the car let the ads play. The people in the front seats turned to talk more comfortably with those in the back. 

Shortly after, the ads were interrupted by a notice for a rest stop.  The back seat passengers were adamant about stopping.  The driver went through the motions to select the rest area.  The car on the yellow platform was released from its belt line and they hovered to an above ground parking lot using the platform's own stored motive power.  This was the first time they actually noticed how much more comfortable the tunnel was.  The AC was not running much at all for the first of their trip.  Everyone got out of the car to use the restroom or stretch their legs.  The driver noticed an information display that is usually used to add some amount of attraction to the little stops and went to look closer.  It overlooked a large array of solar panels.  Further in the distance, following the ridge of the mountain, were lines of wind turbines.  The board graphically displayed that the solar panels powered the electronics of the Google Gas Free Freeway while the wind turbines acted as pumps to keep enough compressed air available to the platforms they were riding on.  Everyone eventually returned.  Each time some one returned and closed their door a sign on the machine in front of their car would turn on for several seconds.  'Flash high beams to continue'. Once she did they were off again into the comfort of the tunnel.  

After several minutes passed and several ads later, all the lights flashed yellow, and a message read, 'CAUTION: Vehicle will be slowing down soon.' A natural light was at the end of the tunnel. The yellow platform disengaged from the tunnel mechanism and slowly piloted itself to a free space. The same payment machine now showed other messages. Welcome to Las Vegas. Would you like to park your car here during your stay. I can call you a taxi or suggest efficient rental vehicles in our facility. If not, thank you for traveling with Google Gas Free Freeway.” They decided to drive themselves. As they left the lot they flirted with the sexy attendant before waving and pulling off into the city of lights.

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