Monday December 17, 2018
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Google Launches A Car-Pooling Application ‘Waze’

The carpooling fees are supposed to be similar to what it would cost to take a train or type of public transportation to work.

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The Waze application is displayed on a smartphone in San Francisco. VOA
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Google will begin offering its pay-to-carpool service throughout the U.S., an effort to reduce the commute-time congestion that its popular Waze navigation app is designed to avoid.

The expansion announced Wednesday builds upon a carpooling system that Waze began testing two years ago in northern California and Israel before gradually extending it into Brazil and parts of 12 other states.

Now it will be available to anyone in the U.S.

Drivers willing to give someone a ride for a small fee to cover some of their costs for gas and other expenses need only Waze’s app on their phone. Anyone willing to pay a few bucks to hitch a ride will need to install a different Waze app focused on carpooling.

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A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company’s offices in Toronto. VOA

About 1.3 million drivers and passengers have signed up for Waze’s carpooling service, the company says. About 30 million people in the U.S. currently rely on the Waze app for directions; it has 110 million users worldwide.

Waze’s carpooling effort has been viewed as a potential first step for Google to mount a challenge to the two top ride-hailing services, Uber and Lyft.

But Waze founder and CEO Noam Bardin rejected that notion in an interview with The Associated Press, insisting that the carpooling service is purely an attempt to ease traffic congestion.

“We don’t want to be a professional driving network,” Bardin said. “We see ride sharing as something that needs to become part of the daily commute. If we can’t get people out of their cars, it won’t be solving anything.”

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Anyone willing to pay a few bucks to hitch a ride will need to install a different Waze app focused on carpooling. Flickr

Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey also sees Waze’s service as a bigger threat to other carpooling apps such as Scoop and Carpool Buddy than to Uber and Lyft. “Carpooling is a much different animal,” he said.

It’s a form of transportation that Bardin said Waze had difficulty figuring out. Early on, Waze tried to get more drivers to sign up by emphasizing the economic benefits of having someone help cover gas costs for a trip that they were going to make anyway.

But earlier this year, Waze realized it needed a better formula for connecting strangers willing to ride together in a car. Many women, for instance, only want to ride with other women, Bardin said, while other people enjoy commuting with others who work for the same employer or live in the same neighborhood.

“Carpooling is a more social experience,” Bardin said. “A lot of time those of us working in the digital world forget that social connections are often the most important thing in the real world.”

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during a news conference in New Delhi. VOA

Waze’s app still sets a price for each carpooling trip and transfers payments without charging a commission. That’s something Waze can afford to do because Google makes so much money from selling digital ads on Waze and its many other services.

Also Read: In India, Carpooling and Ride-Sharing Can Actually Improve Urban Mobility: Uber

The carpooling fees are supposed to be similar to what it would cost to take a train or type of public transportation to work, Bardin said. Drivers and riders can agree to adjust the price upward or downward, but the fees can never exceed the rate the Internal Revenue Service allows for business-related mileage — currently 54.5 cents per mile.

Even though Waze’s carpooling service doesn’t appear to be driven by profit motive, Ramsey isn’t convinced that will always be the case. “I do think Google is realizing that it can’t just keep making all its money from selling ads,” he said. (VOA)

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Researchers Look for Alternatives To Chemical Fertilizers for a Cleaner Environment

Too many nutrients in the water leads to poor water quality by causing hazardous algal blooms.

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A farming woman spreads fertilizer in a paddy field. Flickr

Fertilizer is made of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Chemical fertilizers require huge amounts of energy to produce. But there are other, natural and more readily available sources.

The University of Michigan, with support from the National Science Foundation, is working at making our water cleaner, and our agriculture more sustainable, by capturing one of those sources, rather than flushing it down the toilet.

On a hot summer afternoon near Brattleboro, Vermont, farmer Dean Hamilton has fired up his tractor and is fertilizing his hay field — with human urine.

It takes a bit of time to get used to, says environmental engineer Nancy Love.

“I’ve been surprised at how many people actually get beyond the giggle factor pretty quickly,” she said, “and are willing to listen.”

Fine-tuning the recycling

Rich Earth Institute, a nonprofit, is working with Love and her team. Abraham Noe-Hays says they are fine-tuning new methods to recycle urine into fertilizer.

“There’s a great quote by Buckminster Fuller about how pollution is nothing but the resources that we’re not harvesting, and that we allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value,” he said.

Harvesting the resource of urine — which is, after all, full of the same nutrients as chemical fertilizer — will fix two problems at once: eliminate waste and create a natural fertilizer.

The Rich Earth Institute has been using urine as fertilizer since 2012. Kim Nace says they collect about 26,000 liters a year, thanks to a loyal group of dedicated donors.

“We now have people who have some source-separating toilets in their homes. We also have people who have 55 gallon (200-liter) barrels where they collect and then we transport to our farms, and we’ve also got a large urine depot,” Nace said.

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Fertilizers. Wikimedia Commons

They pasteurize the urine to kill any microbes, and then it is applied directly onto hay fields like Hamilton’s.

Next level of project

Now that they’ve partnered with the University of Michigan, Love says they’re looking to take their project to the next level.

“There are three things we really are trying to do with the urine in this kind of next phase. We’re trying to concentrate it. We’re trying to apply technologies to reduce odor, and we’re trying to deal with trace contaminants like the pharmaceuticals,” she said.

Dealing with pharmaceuticals is an important issue. Heat urine kills germs but has no effect on chemicals like drugs that pass through our bodies.

“We know pharmaceuticals are a problem for aquatic organisms and water systems,” Love said. “It’s debatable about the impact on human health at very, very low levels. Independent of that, I think most people would prefer that they not be in their food.”

Fertilizers
Farmer Scott Halpin is facing another year of high prices for seed and fertilizer, and low prices for the corn and soybeans his family is planting on farmland outside Morris, Illinois.

21st century infrastructure

For Love, this is all about redesigning our wastewater infrastructure for the 21st century. Too many nutrients in the water leads to poor water quality by causing hazardous algal blooms.

“Our water emissions are going into very sensitive water bodies that are vulnerable to these nutrient loads,” she said. “We need to change that dynamic. And if we can capture them and put them to a beneficial use, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Also Read: Common Plastic Chemical May Increase Breast Cancer Risk

Their efforts could make agriculture greener and our waterways cleaner. (VOA)