Photographer: Yong Teck Lim/AP Photo
Singapore has beaten the like of technology giants Apple and Google and got a head start on ride sharing and taxi firm Uber by launching driverless taxi service in Singapore.
Under a new trail by a US start-up firm called nuTonomy; a select number of people will be able to hail a free through their smartphones. The company which has offices in US and Singapore was founded in 2013 by two MIT researchers specializing in robotics and driverless technology.
While Google and Volvo, as well as Uber have been testing self-driving cars for some years, nuTonomy would be the first to offer rides to the public ahead of Uber, which plans to offer rides in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, by a few weeks.
The aim of nuTonomy is to have a fully functional self-driving fleet of cars in Singapore by 2018, the service which is starting small with a handful of cars will increase to a dozen by the end of the year.
The current fleet consists of Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-miEV and will have a driver in the front and a researcher in the back keeping a close eye on the car’s computers. Each car will be fitted with Lidar, a laser based detection system, two cameras to scan for obstacles and detect changes in traffic lights.
The trial phase of the driverless taxis will only cover an area known as “one-north” comprising of businesses and residence equating 2.5 square miles with limited pick up and drop off points available to those with an invitation from nuTonomy.
nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma indicated that the testing time frame for the service is open ended and while the company is working on testing similar taxi services in other cities across Asian, U.S and Europe, the refused to reveal when.
Doug Parker, nuTonomy's chief operating officer added "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."
Iagnemma said the company is confident that its software algorithm can make calculated decisions.
"What we're finding is the number of interested parties is really overwhelming," he said, and the company hopes its expertise in autonomous driving will eventually lead to partnerships with automakers, tech companies, logistics companies and others.