Singapore became the first country in the world to launch a self-driving taxi service. The world’s first self-driving taxis began picking up passengers in Singapore starting on 25th August, Thursday.
This unique and creative service is launched by NuTonomy. This is a self-driving company that spun out of MIT and is based in Singapore and Cambridge, Mass., has just launched the first-ever public test of a commercial fleet of fully self-driving cars.
NuTonomy is a 50-person company with offices in Massachusetts and Singapore, was formed in 2013 by Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who were studying robotics and developing autonomous vehicles for the Defense Department.
Earlier this year, the company was the first to win approval from Singapore’s government to test self-driving cars in one-north. NuTonomy announced a research partnership with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority earlier this month. They firstly tested a self drive on Wednesday, 24th August. And after its successful experiment, they launched it in on 25th August.
This trial means that NuTonomy has beaten Uber to be the first firm to publicly test autonomous taxis. As Uber announced that they are planning to offer rides in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, by a few weeks.
Uber’s taxis will be assigned to passengers at random, while NuTonomy asked local residents to apply to join its pilot scheme before they can request a car. In both cases the rides are free, and the trial vehicles come with an engineer sitting behind the wheel, ready to take over, and a researcher in the back taking notes.
NuTonomy is starting small six cars now, growing to a dozen by the end of the year. According to the executives of the company, the ultimate goal of the company is to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018 which helps cut the number of cars on Singapore’s congested roads.
For now, the taxis only run in a 6.5-sq. km business and residential district called “one-north”, and pick-ups and drop-offs are limited to specified locations. Riders must have an invitation from NuTonomy to use the service. The company says dozens have signed up for the launch, and it plans to expand that list to thousands of people within a few months.
Pang Kin Keong who is the Singapore’s Permanent Secretary for Transport and the chairman of its committee on autonomous driving said, “We face constraints in land and manpower. We want to take advantage of self-driving technology to overcome such constraints”.
In this phase of the trial, the company is hoping to collect data and feedback on the user experience of the car and the app, the efficiency of the vehicle routing systems and other software-related issues.
Doug Parker who is the NuTonomy’s chief operating officer said, “The autonomous taxis could ultimately reduce the number of cars on Singapore’s roads from 900,000 to 300,000. When you are able to take that many cars off the road, it creates a lot of possibilities. You can create smaller roads; you can create much smaller car parks. I think it will change how people interact with the city going forward”.
Presumably NuTonomy’s driving software has improved since then, and the company says it plans to have a dozen cars on the roads by the end of the year. CEO and co-founder Karl Iagnemma told the Associated Press that the time frame for the trial was open-ended, and that the company wants to have a full self-driving fleet in operation in Singapore by 2018.