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Google put a research lab in a van and is driving it around the US

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Associated Press / Mary Altaffer

Google wants to get a better idea of how people use its products, so it's put a few researchers inside a van and sent them off to drive around the US to find out. According to the Associated Press, Google's van will stop in a handful of cities throughout March and April, inviting people along the way to step inside for product testing.

Google's researchers will watch as people use apps and services on their smartphones, reportedly hoping to get a better sense of how people outside Silicon Valley use its products. "We are trying to get out to more locations and see more people so we can gather more context," Laura Granka, a lead Google Maps and Search researcher, tells the AP.

Google will watch people use a phone in a van for over an hour at a time

The van will stop in New York, Chapel Hill, Clemson, Atlanta, Boulder, Salt Lake City, Reno, and South Lake Tahoe, according to the AP. It'll reportedly set up near colleges, parks, and libraries, with plans to invite in about 500 people in total over the course of the trip. Sessions could could last up to an hour and a half, and participants will be compensated with gift cards. That's not a terribly uncommon setup, but you don't usually see it from a recognized company like Google.

It's not clear exactly how much Google hopes to glean from this study. It does plenty of testing from its various headquarters; and while it can reach people it otherwise wouldn't by driving around in a van, it's still heading to major cities. Getting out of its typically tech-friendly area, however, could be all that it's looking for.