Want to Grab a free ride in a driverless car?

nuTonomy chief Karl Iagnemma (left) and Grab Singapore head Lim Kell Jay with a test car. nuTonomy has been testing the vehicles in the one-north area since April and has tied up with ride-hailing service Grab to let a select group of its customers t
nuTonomy chief Karl Iagnemma (left) and Grab Singapore head Lim Kell Jay with a test car. nuTonomy has been testing the vehicles in the one-north area since April and has tied up with ride-hailing service Grab to let a select group of its customers try them out.PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

But trips limited to areas near one-north, selected riders and involve 'lengthy interview'

A start-up software company testing two driverless cars it developed has set up a partnership with ride-hailing service Grab to let its passengers try them out for free.

nuTonomy has been testing the vehicles in the one-north area since April and last month began taking passengers. It hopes to operate 12 such cars by the end of the year.

It announced a partnership with Grab yesterday which will allow a select group of the latter's customers to book rides in the one-north business district and nearby neighbourhoods via a special "robo-car" icon on its app. nuTonomy will use data from Grab to target users likely to travel around the area and shortlist them for the trial.

nuTonomy Singapore operations manager Cody Kamin said while there are no specific geographic boundaries for the trips, the company is likely to reject destinations too far away.

Each car will have a support engineer and a safety driver who will take control of the vehicle outside of one-north.

The original 6km stretch of roads, approved by the authorities as a test bed for autonomous vehicles, was doubled this week to include destinations such as Fusionopolis and the one-north MRT station.

"The addition of an MRT station will allow us to deliver on first- and last-mile trips that people need," said Mr Kamin.

The one-year partnership is aimed at gathering information on improving the comfort, performance and safety of nuTonomy's self-driving cars, as well as refining Grab's routing technology and mapping for these vehicles.

nuTonomy chief executive Karl Iagnemma said users will go through a "lengthy interview process" before and after their rides. "We're really trying to gain useful data about their experience."

Grab Singapore head Lim Kell Jay said the partnership will allow Grab to explore "new and innovative" solutions to transport issues.

"We see self-driving vehicles as a natural next step as we broaden our transport offerings," he said, adding that it will take longer for these vehicles to be viable in its other markets in the region.

Mr Lim said that while the partnership was for only a year, Grab is open to future collaborations with nuTonomy.

Earlier this month, Uber launched a trial of driverless on-demand cars in Pittsburgh in the United States.

Mr Iagnemma said there is "plenty of room" in the self-driving vehicle arena. "Competition is a little bit scary but we welcome it and it doesn't deter us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'Want to Grab a free ride in a driverless car?'. Print Edition | Subscribe