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Self-driving taxi roll-out in Singapore gathers intelligence

Autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy launched a fleet of self-driving taxis in Singapore in August

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW ASEAN: CW ASEAN: Singapore hosts world’s first robo-taxis

Singapore has become the first country in the world to launch self-driving taxis.

Most people had expected this accolade to go to Pittsburgh, US, where Uber had announced in August that it would launch public hail self-driving taxis before the end of that month.

But nuTonomy, developer of state-of-the art software for self-driving cars, pipped Uber to the post to launch the world’s first consumer trial of driverless cabs in Singapore.

The company called the launch “the first-ever public trial of a robo-taxi service”.

The trial is taking place in Singapore’s one-north business district, where nuTonomy has been conducting daily autonomous vehicle testing since April, according to company sources.

The trial involves selected Singapore residents, who are invited to use nuTonomy’s ride-hailing smartphone app to book a free ride in one of its self-driving cars – a Mitsubishi i-Miev or a Renault Zoe – which employs the company’s software. An nuTonomy engineer will ride in the vehicle to observe system performance and take control if needed to ensure passenger comfort and safety.

Karl Iagnemma, Nutonomy’s CEO, said: “The trial represents an extraordinary opportunity to collect feedback from riders in a real-world setting.” He said nuTonomy was working towards deploying a self-driving vehicle fleet in 2018.

During the trial, nuTonomy will collect and evaluate data related to software system performance, vehicle routing efficiency, the vehicle booking process and the overall passenger experience. The data will enable nuTonomy to refine its software in preparation for the launch of a widely-available commercial robo-taxi service in Singapore in 2018.

R&D partner

In early August this year, nuTonomy was selected by the Singapore Land Transport Authority as a research and development partner to support the development of a commercial autonomous vehicle service in the city-state.

“This year saw the technology for driverless cars gain much traction, with trials conducted from Boston to Tokyo to the UK,” said Lionel Lim, vice-president and managing director Asia Pacific at software firm Pivotal.

“For Singapore, the introduction of autonomous taxis is part of the city-state’s vision for a car-light future. However, as history has taught us, the impact of any disruption in society is determined by how we harness it. If driverless cars are simply another form of private ownership vehicles, it will actually lead to more cars, not less.”

nuTonomy was founded in 2013 by former MIT engineers Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli. It raised US$3.6m funding in January, followed by $16m in May from venture capitalists, led by Highland Capital Partners and included participation from Fontinalis Partners, Signal Ventures, Samsung Ventures and EDBI, the dedicated corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board.

Besides Singapore, nuTonomy also operates self-driving cars in Michigan, US, and the UK.

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