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World's First Driverless Taxi Began in Singapore
Aug 31, 2016

The world's first self-driving taxis began picking up passengers in Singapore recently. Select members of the public can hail a free ride through their smartphones in taxis operated byNuTonomy, an autonomous vehicle software startup. 

  • While multiple companies, including Google and Volvo, have been testing self-driving cars on public roads for several years, NuTonomy is the first to offer rides to the public.
  • Its launch in Singapore is beating ride-hailing service Uber, which plans to offer rides in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, by a few weeks.
  • NuTonomy is starting small six cars now, growing to a dozen by the end of the year.
  • The ultimate goal of the company is to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018, to help cut the number of cars on Singapore's congested roads.
  • For now, the taxis only run in a 2.5-square-mile (6.5 square kilometer) business and residential district called ‘one-north’, and pick-ups and drop-offs are limited to specified locations. 
  • Riders must have an invitation from NuTonomy to use the service. 
  • Many people had signed up for the launch, and NuTonomy plans to expand that list to thousands of people within a few months.
  • The cars—modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electrics—have a driver in front who is prepared to take back the wheel and a researcher in back who watches the car's computers. 
  • Each car is fitted with six sets of Lidar—a detection system that uses lasers to operate like radar—including one that constantly spins on the roof. 
  • There are also two cameras on the dashboard to scan for obstacles and detect changes in traffic lights.
  • NuTonomy also is working on testing similar taxi services in other Asian cities, the U.S. and Europe. 
  • These types of autonomous taxis could ultimately reduce the number of cars on Singapore's roads from 900,000 to 300,000.
  • NuTonomy, a 50-person company with offices in Massachusetts and Singapore, was formed in 2013 by Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who were studying robotics and developing autonomous vehicles for the Defence Department. 
  • Earlier this year, the company was the first to win approval from Singapore's government to test self-driving cars in one-north. 
  • NuTonomy announced a research partnership with Singapore's Land Transport Authority earlier this month.
  • Singapore is ideal because it has good weather, great infrastructure and drivers who tend to obey traffic rules. 
  • As a land-locked island, the city of 5.4 million people is seeking creative ways to grow its economy, so it's been supportive of autonomous vehicle research.

Auto supplier Delphi Corp., which also is working on autonomous vehicle software, was recently selected to test autonomous vehicles on the island and plans to start next year. The company is confident that its software can make good decisions. The company hopes its head start in autonomous driving will eventually lead to partnerships with automakers, tech companies, logistics companies and others.


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