Singapore trials driverless taxis in world first

By AFP   August 25, 2016 | 01:29 am PT
Singapore trials driverless taxis in world first
This electric, self-driving Renault is one of the cars now taking passengers in Singapore. Photo from NuTonomy.
Uber could soon be beaten. 

The world's first driverless taxis went into operation on Thursday in Singapore in a limited public trial, beating giants like Uber in the race to roll out the revolutionary technology.

The "robo-taxi service" is being tested at a small research campus well away from the thrum of the Asian business hub.

Data from the experiment will feed into the roll-out of driverless taxis across the city-state in 2018, said nuTonomy, a U.S.-based tech start-up that developed the software used in the vehicles.

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

"This feedback will give nuTonomy a unique advantage as we work toward deployment of a self-driving vehicle fleet in 2018," he said.

The six taxis, Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicles will operate in a 2.5 square mile (4.0 square kilometer) area, with set pick-up and drop-off points. Trips have to be booked through the company's smartphone app.

Although the high-tech cars will drive themselves, each journey will be accompanied by a nuTonomy engineer, who will observe how the machine performs, and be ready to take over in the event of a problem, the company said.

Ride-sharing giant Uber said last week that it would be launching driverless cars in the U.S. city of Pittsburgh by the end of August. It has also established a $300 million venture with Chinese-owned, Swedish-based Volvo to develop self-driving cars for sale by 2021.

Separately, Google parent Alphabet announced in May that it is partnering Fiat Chrysler in expanding its fleet of self-driving vehicles, which it hopes will hit the road by end-2016.

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