World's first driverless taxi trial kicks off in Singapore

The first driverless taxi has been trialed in Singapore as developer nuTonomy hopes to launch the service in 2018.
nuTonomy now has just one driverless car - a Mitsubishi i-MiEV (left) - that has been approved by regulators. Another - a Renault Zoe - is pending approval and four other Zoes are being prepared to be driven autonomously. The fleet will eventually ex
nuTonomy now has just one driverless car - a Mitsubishi i-MiEV (above) - that has been approved by regulators. Another - a Renault Zoe - is pending approval and four other Zoes are being prepared to be driven autonomously. The fleet will eventually expand to 75 by 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS
Cameras that read traffic lights are mounted inside a nuTonomy self-driving taxi during its public trial here yesterday.
Cameras that read traffic lights are mounted inside a nuTonomy self-driving taxi during its public trial here yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

The start-up nuTonomy, by MIT researchers here, beat Uber's trial slated for end of month

Singapore yesterday became the first country in the world to have on-demand driverless taxis - a new technology that is touted to disrupt the transport industry.

The service was part of an ongoing trial by nuTonomy, which was founded by two Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers now based in Singapore.

With that, the start-up won bragging rights as offering the first public road tests of driverless taxis, beating out giants such as Uber which will trial a fleet of driverless cars in Pittsburgh in the United States by the end of this month.

nuTonomy chief operations officer Doug Parker told The Straits Times that it chose to try out the service in Singapore because of the high consumer demand for taxis here, well-maintained roads and clear government regulations for its tests. "Singapore is the best place in the world for self-driving cars," said Mr Parker.

For now, the service is limited to an invited group of about 10 people.

They can use a smartphone app to summon nuTonomy's self-driving vehicle for free rides to one of 12 locations in one-north. These include the Mediacorp Campus and the Genome building, which lie along the 6km stretch of road where nuTonomy has been testing its vehicles since April. Due to safety concerns, the service will not be available during peak hours.

nuTonomy hopes to eventually open the trial to a "few dozen" more people in Singapore before making the service commercially available here in 2018.

It now has just one driverless car - a Mitsubishi i-MiEV - that has been approved by regulators. Another - a Renault Zoe - is pending approval, and four other Zoes are being prepared to be driven autonomously. The fleet will eventually expand to 75 by 2018.

Earlier this month, the Land Transport Authority signed an agreement to collaborate with nuTonomy and UK-based Delphi Automotive Systems to trial such services here.

The trial will allow the evaluation of software system performance, vehicle routing efficiency, the vehicle booking process and overall passenger experience.

nuTonomy chief executive officer and co-founder Karl Iagnemma, said: "The trial represents an extraordinary opportunity to collect feedback from riders in a real-world setting."

Entrepreneur Edward Tiong was among a group of five who tried the service on Monday. He was initially apprehensive about the car's safety, but said his worries soon went away.

"I've been following the technology for a while, so I was quite excited to try it out," said the 26-year-old.

Ms Olivia Seow, who also tried it, said she would "definitely" consider taking driverless taxis once they are widely available. The 25-year-old, who works with start-ups, said: "It would be good if they could also include a carpooling option."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'World's first driverless taxi trial kicks off in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe