Singapore debuts world's first 'self-driving' taxi service


Singapore has become the first city to get driverless taxi service, under a new trial from start-up firm nuTonomy.

The US firm has beated the likes of Uber and Google to launch the test, which lets a selected number of ordinary members of the public hail a free ride through their smartphones. The driverless cars will have a human backup driver and co-pilot on board for the time being.

nuTonomy was founded in 2013 by two MIT researchers specializing in robotics and driverless technology. The firm has offices both in the US and in Singapore.

While multiple companies, including Google and Volvo, have been testing self-driving cars on public roads for several years, nuTonomy said it would be the first to offer rides to the public, beating Uber, which plans to offer rides in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, by a few weeks.

The cars – modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electrics – had a driver in the front prepared to take back the wheel and a researcher in the back watching the car’s computers, the company said. Each was fitted with Lidar, a laser-based detection system like radar.

Initially ,t eh service will run with just six cars, growing to a dozen by the end of the year, said nuTonomy, adding that it aimed to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018.

The first taxis would run in a 2.5 square mile business and residential district called “one-north” and pick-ups and drop-offs will be limited to specified locations, the company said.

Riders must have an invitation to use the service, said nuTonomy, adding that dozens of people signed up for the launch and it wanted to add thousands more in the coming months.

The testing time-frame was open-ended, said nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma. Eventually riders may start paying for the service, with more pick-up and drop-off points added.

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