First Self-Driving Taxi Hits the Streets of Singapore

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Singapore-based nuTonomy has started testing a free taxi-hailing service on the roads of the country, beating ride-hailing giant, Uber and Google to the race to revolutionize the transport industry.

Founded by two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the company said it began testing a free taxi-hailing service in a small business district in Singapore called one-north, a campus-like space dominated by tech firms and biotechnology companies.

A nuTonomy self-driving taxi drives on the road in its public trial in Singapore August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su

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NuTonomy’s test vehicles, a Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car, will have a Computer Engineer and backup human driver during the trial phase in case anything of abnormalities, and can be accessed by select members of the public using a smartphone app. The one-north district is a self-contained area of about 0.8 square miles accessible by trunk roads but much quieter than most public roads in Singapore. NuTonomy said it would test its vehicles on a 6 kilometer (3.7 mile) route.

 “Quite frankly I think Uber is the Goliath and we need to show that our technology is working and getting to a level of maturity that is viable for the marketplace. We’re in a technology race here and I think there are going to be a handful of winners”, said Doug Parker, Chief Operating Officer at Nutonomy.

The trial was backed by the Singapore government, which had nursed turning the city-state into a hub for disruptive technology through generous financial-assistance programs and research partnerships with companies such as nuTonomy. “Singapore government had laid out a series of milestones for nuTonomy to achieve before it is allowed to extend its trials to other areas of the city”, he affirmed.

Parker said that the innovative company is placing a strong bet that Singapore is going to be the first country in the world to offer a consumer service on a national scale, adding that nuTonomy is targeting an island-wide autonomous taxi service by 2018.

Other tech companies including Chinese internet giant, Baidu have been testing self-driving cars on the roads for years, but this is the first time the vehicles have been open to public use.