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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Gas pumps with Internet service, color screens, and touch pads use Google Maps to guide drivers to nearby landmarks.

Cars and maps are kind of a match made in heaven. People get lost, and roads are confusing. Luckily, pumping gas is not, and despite some states like Oregon requiring people to pump your gas for you, most other places are a self-serve affair. The Associated Press is reporting that a new line of gas pumps from Gilbarco Veeder-Root, due to ship next month, will be equipped with a touch-screen panel that includes a slightly stripped-down version of Google Maps to let you browse local attractions like hotels, amusement parks, and restaurants that have been handpicked by the gas station's owner. When you've found what you're looking for, you can then print out the directions right from the pump. Stations that buy and install them simply need to hook up the pump to the Internet to get the things going.

Gasoline pump maker Gilbarco Veeder-Root on Wednesday unveiled a new service that lets drivers use Google Maps at the pump to get directions to destinations chosen by gas station owners.
The service, unveiled at the National Association of Convenience Stores conference in Atlanta, is part of Gilbarco's Applause media system, which has been incorporated in its Encore pumps with color screens and Internet connections. Applause is an extension of Gilbarco's SMART Merchandising system that retailers can use to display promotions and advertisements, and offer coupons through the pump's receipt printer.

Gilbarco plans to begin testing of the Google service early next month, company spokeswoman Lucy Sackett told InformationWeek. The company hopes to roll out the service later in the month to about 3,500 pumps across the United States.

The Google service will be very limited initially. Using the pump's touch pad, drivers will be able to choose a category, such as restaurants, hospitals, hotels, or landmarks, and then pick a listing and print a map to the location. Retailers will choose the listings.

Motorists will not be able to search for their own destinations, Sackett said. That feature is expected to be introduced later, but no date has been set. "We're looking at a number of options, depending on how the initial testing and roll out goes," Sackett said.

While of limited use to motorists, the initial service gives retailers the tools to enter marketing deals with local businesses. Besides offering maps to locations, gas station owners could also offer coupons to try to drive traffic to local merchants. "Based on the interest we're getting at the show, I think there'll be a lot of demand for this," Sackett said.

Gilbarco plans to add other services to its Internet-connected pumps in the future. Those services could include weather and traffic reports, public service announcements, or the ability to order, for example, a sandwich at the pump and have it ready in the store after the motorist finishes filling up.

Gilbarco declined to say whether it had entered into a partnership with Google. The search engine offers open software hooks that developers can use to embed Google services in applications. "That's more representative of the relationship," Sackett said.

Google makes its services available to third-party developers to further its goal of getting its search engine in front of consumers wherever they are, not just at a home PC. Not all uses of its services lead to money trading hands.

As another example of Google's constant effort to expand the use of its services, the company on Monday unveiled a Linux-based operating system for mobile phones that would offer easy access to Google e-mail, search, and other services. Google has rallied 30 companies around its open-source OS, including T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm and Motorola.

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