Google's Sydney office has a pair of electric cars which staff can borrow and use — but only after they have earned points through travelling to work in the greenest way possible. Lifehacker chatted to Google software engineer Sam Thorogood about how the points-tracking system was built, and whether there are any unexpected risks in driving a car covered in Google branding.
Google outlined details of the Google Green Credits Scheme on its local blog yesterday. To maximise use of the vehicles and ensure access to all of the 600 local staff, Thorogood built a custom system for tracking how staff get to work. The points earned through that scheme then grant access to the car. It's an unusual way of rewarding staff and encouraging environmentally responsible behaviour, so Lifehacker decided to dig into the scheme a little further.
Why didn't you just build a basic system using Google Calendar and a Google Docs spreadsheet
The booking system is more complicated than just using a calendar to make a booking because you’re granted 'points' based on the sorts of sustainable commutes you make to and from work. The points can then be redeemed to use the cars. The points system is a way to ensure that everyone has a chance of booking a car and be rewarded for more sustainable commuting.
How long did the development process take?
The site was developed using our '20% time' over a couple of weeks by myself and another software engineer. We've made lots of improvements and tweaks since then.
What were the biggest challenges in building it?
The biggest challenge was designing a point system that made everyone in the office happy - if someone really wants to borrow one of the cars for a very important errand, they should be able to spend more of their points to win it.
Which methods of transport score the most points?
Walking is the most popular form of transport, followed by biking, catching public transport, riding a motorbike or sharing a car, then finally catching a taxi and, for completeness, driving. Each trip can also be made up of multiple modes of transport, so if you drive to the station and catch a train the rest of the way, you can log that as well.
How do you resolve issues when more than one person wants to book the car?
During business hours, the cars are more or less first-come, first-serve. For use of the car over the weekends, users bid using their points through a weekly auction-system.
Any plans to get more cars for the office?
The program is going really well and we’re happy with the popularity of the two cars we have now.
Has the car even been mistaken for a Street View vehicle by a confused or angry member of the public?
Our Street View cars are clearly labelled and hard to miss with all the camera equipment attached. As you can see from the pictures, these electric cars look very, very different!